When 2 or 3 Come Together


This article investigates policies that are responsive to crime in disadvantaged, urban neighborhoods from a community-based context. The vehicle is an analysis of a community-wide prayer vigil held in Chicago in May of 1997. The vigil resulted from a collaboration between the Chicago Police Department and hundreds of (mostly) African-American churches on Chicago’s West Side. Strikingly, the local police district’s commander facilitated the vigil. We explain the sociological and political significance of this collaboration by drawing upon the “Chicago School” of urban sociology and demonstrating theoretically and empirically the potential for the collaboration, through the integration of key community institutions, to promote community capacity to resist crime and to complete other goals and projects of residents. The article’s end addresses constitutional questions. If collaboration between churches and the police through religious activity enhances the community efficacy of poor minority neighborhoods, is there any way to reconcile the benefits of such activity with constitutional concerns about religious establishment? We focus on the extent to which African Americans have been able to influence this jurisprudence through litigation rather than the internal structure of Establishment Clause jurisprudence. A review of the litigation reveals the particular nature of the involvement of African Americans in the development of Establishment Clause jurisprudence, and it demonstrates plainly the extent to which judicial sanction of church-state interaction has had, and continues to have, important racial consequences. African Americans, through representative litigating institutions, have consistently recognized the disparate impact of church-state partnerships, but the Court has never acknowledged the non-religious implications of its Establishment Clause decisions. As a result, Establishment Clause jurisprudence is disconnected from the realities of disparate impact, and that is potentially problematic for African-American communities. We believe excavation of the realities of disparate impact is critical in assessing the extent to which modern church state partnerships should be allowed or even blessed by the state.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Law and Society | Public Law and Legal Theory | Social Welfare Law

Date of this Version

March 2006