The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Florida police used mugshots of black men for target practice. Clergy responded: #UseMeInstead.

The idea originated on a closed Facebook group for Lutheran clergy, where pastors were discussing how North Miami Beach’s police department had been caught using mugshots of actual people for target practice. Let’s send in our own photos for target practice, the pastors decided.

The target-practice story had come to light after National Guard Sgt. Valerie Deant saw bullet-riddled mugshots of black men at a police gun range. One photo was of Deant’s brother. Outrage followed in North Miami Beach and beyond as critics called for the police chief’s resignation.

The chief defended the department but denied racial profiling and said officers used  images of people of all races. The city council banned the practice.

Rev. Joy M. Gonnerman and other pastors chatted about the story on the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Facebook group and discussed how to respond to something that was emblematic of a deeper, systematic problem.

“Maybe we ought it make it harder to pull the trigger, and volunteer to put pictures of their family up,” Gonnerman  said. Another poster said she would send a photo of herself to the North Miami Beach Police Department.

So Rev. Lura N. Groen of Houston created a Facebook event, and, along with Gonnerman and others, invited friends to post pictures of themselves in their clerical clothing. Soon, people — many, but not all of them, clergy — began tweeting images using the hashtag #UseMeInstead.

The effort was “motivated by our service to Christ and his call to love our neighbors,” Gonnerman told The 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,” Rev. Kris Totzke, a pastor in Texas, told The Post. “Then, it really snowballed, and we got people all over the country and of all different faiths.”

The images of pastors, monks and others wearing clothing that in part symbolizes peace and love are intended to be striking, to cause people pulling the trigger to think twice.

“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,” Gonnerman said. “Maybe, to change the picture, it’s you know what, dare ya, shoot a clergy person.”

They now have a stack of 8-by-10 #UseMeInstead photos, mostly of white pastors who are hoping to serve as allies in the fight against racism. And even though city officials and police chief J. Scott Dennis have apologized for the department’s use of the mugshots, Gonnerman said she planned to mail 66 of those photos to the department over the weekend.

“Essentially,” she said, “we’re saying: We’re watching, we’re paying attention to this.”

MORE READING: Ohio man exonerated after spending 27 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit

South Carolina indicted three white cops in four months, and it’s probably not a coincidence

Former cop sues Kentucky hunting store after accidentally shooting off his own finger

Federal civil rights charges unlikely against police officer in Ferguson shooting