100 people from St. Andrew's Episcopal to meet with Camden Police Chief Thomson

Fr. Guzman at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church January 2009

August 28, 2009

Faith Community takes action to build trust with local law enforcement. Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church/CCOP will host a public Action at St. Andrew's, 3050 River Rd (at Lois and River Road) in Cramer Hill on Monday, August 31, 2009. Doors open at 5:30 pm, event to start at 6:00 pm. Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson has agreed to attend and speak with the community concerning community/police relations and public safety. Two hundred community members are expected to attend. (Photos here)

Camden police report that undocumented people are being targeted as victims of violent crime. Chief Thomson voiced concern that undocumented people are not reporting crimes or following through on reports of violence they suffer out of fear of deportation by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Jose Bello of St. Andrews Episcopal Church shared how sick it is that thugs threaten to report their victims to ‘Immigration,' if they contact police. He shared that, "our community is under siege by thugs who terrorize our neighbors by beating, stabbing, robbing and killing them. These are our daughters, sons, moms and dads. We have to do something; this has to stop!"

Local residents, documented and undocumented, are equally vulnerable to acts of community terrorism acted out by violent opportunists that steal, molest and extort people in Camden neighborhoods. Rosa Pena of St. Andrew's shared that, "Even some landlords abuse tenants and threaten to report those believed to be undocumented to ‘Immigration.'"

Pena also shared that "A culture of fear has been spreading. Many people are afraid of the police. If police are not walking among us, how can we get to know them; how can they get to know us; how can we learn to trust?"  So, many in our community, victims and criminals wrongly believe that if undocumented people report a crime, Camden Police will automatically have undocumented people deported. The ICE raids and reported deportations in neighboring counties fuel this belief.

Many faith traditions hold as foundational a call to welcome the stranger and make provision the traveler. This includes sharing shelter with ‘aliens' and preparing a table for those fleeing persecution from other lands. "There are many people living in community who are suffering... suffering without a voice and living in fear," said Fr. Pedro Guzman of St Andrews Episcopal Church. He also said that, "loving God and loving neighbor are what is right and pleasing in the eyes of God. Where is our humanity if we ignore the pain of people?"

We hope this meeting will serve as a public action toward building bridges of trust between the community and local law enforcement. Police Chief Scott Thomson has committed to meeting with community members and committed to building trust that undocumented people also can report crimes to Camden Police without Camden Police reporting those seeking police service, as well as victims and witnesses of crimes to ICE.