Members of the Lutheran clergy are responding to the controversy over a Florida police department's use of black men's mug shots as shooting practice targets by telling cops to use photos of them instead.
The social media initiative — under the hashtag #usemeinstead — was launched by a group of clergy members after the North Miami Beach police department's controversial practice was exposed earlier this month.
The discovery by a National Guard sergeant, who found the mug shot of her brother among the bullet-ridden photos left behind by cops at a shooting range, sparked widespread backlash and accusations of racial profiling — and ended with a city council ban on the practice.
But a group of pastors chatting on Facebook has decided to take the situation one step further.
"Maybe we ought it make it harder to pull the trigger, and volunteer to put pictures of their family up," Rev. Joy M. Gonnerman wrote.
The conversation turned into a Facebook "event," and soon dozens of members of the clergy began tweeting photos of themselves to the North Miami Beach police.
"If pictures of human targets are used for target practice, great care should be taken in not allowing the selection of these targets to allow for the dehumanization of those most vulnerable to police violence," the group explained on Facebook. "To the members of the North Miami Beach Police: If you must use pictures of real humans for your target practice, we request that you use ours. We're sending pictures of ourselves, in our clergy uniforms, to use."
Rev. Kris Totzke, a pastor in Texas, explained the reasoning to The Washington Post.
"We initially started thinking if a whole lot of us, in our clergy collar and worship attire, sent our photos to them, it would make a really powerful statement," he said. "Then, it really snowballed, and we got people all over the country and of all different faiths."
North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis has apologized for the use of the mug shots in target practice, but defended his officers, saying the photos used depicted people of different races. He added that the department would continue using real mug shots once they expand their database of pictures, and will no longer use images from suspects they have arrested.
It's not clear whether the department plans to use any of the photos tweeted at them by members of the clergy — but Rev. Joy M. Gonnerman, one of the pastors behind the initiative, told the Washington Post she plans to mail a stack of clergy photos to Miami.
"It's such a desensitization thing, that if you start aiming at young black men, and told to put a bullet in them, you become desensitized," she said. "Maybe, to change the picture, it's you know what — dare ya, shoot a clergy person."