SALT LAKE CITY — When the Rev. Oscar T. Moses, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, was a young police officer years ago in Chicago, he remembers needing to take a stand against police brutality.
On one occasion, young officer Moses, his female partner and their female field training officer, who was white, picked up a known black gang member. As they drove to the police station, the field training officer turned around and struck the gang member, who was handcuffed in the back seat.
Moses immediately pulled over and told his supervising officer, “Don’t you ever do that again.” Then he removed the handcuffs and let the gang member go.
“It’s not really right for you to chastise your superior officer, but I had to establish some integrity right then and there. It caused some tension,” he said. “But I had to make a decision, I had to apply the faith and let the chips fall where they may. I think that established some mutual respect.”
It’s one experience Pastor Moses has reflected on in recent weeks during a national wave of protests and civic unrest following the death of George Floyd. He recently shared his views and unique perspective with the Deseret News.
As horrific as the Floyd video was, the pastor was drawn to the other officers who appeared scared of challenging former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who he saw as the clear “alpha male.”
“It could be well sold that the officers were scared to say something. But they were complicit, because they didn’t,” Pastor Moses said. “So there comes a point where you have to speak up because your life might be in jeopardy as a consequence of not saying something.”
Pastor Moses is grateful to be back with his congregation in Utah after spending the last two months in Chicago. He traveled to the Windy City to wrap up personal affairs, sell property and finish moving to Utah with his wife and elderly mother-in-law, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. During that period the pastor used technology to stay connected to his flock.
While going about his pastoral duties, the former Chicago police officer has followed the national and local headlines. He acknowledges these are unprecedented times, but also an opportunity for positive change.
“The temperature around the country makes the culture pliable for change,” he said. “I’m praying that we will be conscious to what is happening and make the adjustments that we need all over the world to make some type of change.”
Calvary Baptist is already working on it. Earlier this month the church played a 5-minute videotaped message from Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown during a virtual worship service in which the police chief expressed his love for the church and black community along with a continued desire to work together for positive change.
Police departments have been encouraged to review policies and discuss sensitivity training, Pastor Moses said.
“I think that’s a start,” he said.
One of the problems Pastor Moses sees during this delicate time is a failure by people to understand the “African American condition,” he said.
“I think that a lot of times people sympathize with what’s going on in the black experience but the empathy is not there,” the pastor said. “When a people are not being heard, when their pain is not felt, when their fear is not felt, they resort to rioting. It’s a coping mechanism ... it’s the language of the hopeless. ... A lot of people are just angry and trying to get their voice heard.”
As a young police officer in Chicago, the pastor recalled that many of the young white officers on the force who were fresh out of combat with Operation Desert Storm treated low-income housing residents like hostiles. It was a sharp contrast to the image and days of “officer friendly” that Pastor Moses recalls as a boy.
“They didn’t see them as human, they saw them as the enemy. They were still in war mode when they came into the development,” he said. “The compassion was not there.”
In 1967, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech at Riverside Church in New York City in which he talked about the “fierce urgency of now” and moving “past indecision to action.” Pastor Moses feels the same message is applicable today.
“As it relates to the ‘urgency of now,’ I think we must understand that we are at a critical juncture as it relates to race relationships, and that what we do now is time sensitive,” he said. “I think now the iron is hot and pliable for race relationships to heal, to whatever degree that can be, but we are dealing with a time window here. ... Trust that God will bring us through it.”