Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A white officer and a black woman…

Written by: on February 1, 2024

January 30, 2024, began the trial of a West Caln Police Officer. It’s a trial many of us who live in West Caln have been nervously waiting for. November 10, 2021, a black lady, Takeisha Landry made a left turn while stopped at a red light. Sergeant Tony Sparano approached her car after she stopped, and he saw her recording the conversation. He snatched the phone from her, and she sped away. He then shot at her car, shattering the back window as the bullet missed her head by less than 2 inches. Once she stopped, according to Landry, an argument pursued with cursing, and she claimed he physically abused her trying to get her out of the car.1

When I first heard the details, my heart sank for Landry and Sparano. I have a very close relationship with the officers in West Caln. As a youngster Sergeant Sparano gave me a job as a security officer and spent many hours talking to me about police work. Four years ago, I was driving down the road and I received a text message from a West Caln Police Officer. Here’s the thread:

Lieutenant Fries: Hey Todd, I’m driving behind you and I noticed your left taillight out. Are you going to take care of it, or do you want me to pull you over?

Me: Hey Chris! It’s always good hearing from you. I will take care of it tomorrow!

Lieutenant Fries: Thank you.

Me: You’re welcome, sir.

Lieutenant Fries: And remember, no texting and driving.

Me: LOL. Copy that!

It’s my relationship and history with the West Caln Police Department that caused me deep pain. But I am a black person and I understand the fear that can accompany being pulled over by a white police officer. Therefore, my heart goes out to Ms. Landry. The moment she saw those lights, I’m sure her nervous system and body became very dysregulated and most likely did not return to normal for at least a month. Now that’s trauma. I will come back to a humble attempt at a solution to the Landry and Saprano saga.

I thought about all of the above as I read Matthew Petrusek’s book, Evangelization and Ideology. In fact, I was reminded of what was said between Landry and Saprano when I read, “the disagreeing parties will simply be talking (or more likely, shouting) past each other. Knowing where and why you disagree with your interlocutors is the condition for the possibility of ever reaching an agreement.”2 It is most likely true that Landry and Saprano talked and shouted past each other and neither one knew where and why they disagreed with one another. Thus, they were not going to come to an agreement. Thus, this is why the people of West Caln struggle to come to an agreement. For the past two years the conversation has been the same from its residents:

“Why didn’t she just stop?”

“Why would he shoot at an unarmed woman?”

“Why didn’t she just comply?”

“Here we go again, taking advantage of a black woman.”

“When will we ever get this right?”

“She should not have driven through a red light.”

“When are we ever going to get some black officers on this police force?”

In regard to the above quotes, Petrusek wrote, “Most political conflicts have little to do with politics. They are rooted in more fundamental disputes about moral values, moral knowledge, the definition of the human being, and even metaphysics.”3 According to Petrusek our hyper-politicized society offers us an opportunity for evangelism instead of fighting or trying to prove our point of view. He does a phenomenal job proving why it is important to understand our political culture in order to respond to it. He offers an antidote to four foundational secular ideologies of our day. Those ideologies are:

  1. Utilitarianism – “The greatest good for the greatest number”4
  2. Classical liberalism/libertarianism5 – Free market and laissez-faire economics and civil liberties under the rule of law, with special emphasis on individual autonomy.
  3. Progressiveism/wokeism6 – A sensitivity to systemic injustices.
  4. Non-theistic conservatism7 – God/religion does not belong in politics.

While genuinely respecting these four worldviews, Petrusek offers an alternative. Now back to Landry and Saprano. I will use four of his alternatives to get involved in our community in order to evangelize by building bridges.

  1. Try to avoid attacking “bad people” and focus on attacking bad ideas instead.8 This Sunday after church, I will talk with Lieutenant Fries and remind him of that trauma seminar we talked about. I will explain to him the “bad people ideas” that are coming out of the Landry Saprano case:
  • Many black people have a deep fear of police officers because of generational trauma. This is what we call epigenetics. It can be helpful to understand how trauma is passed down generationally through DNA and our immune system.
  • Some black people who drive away from an officer are not trying to break the law.
  • It is foolish to drive away from a police officer. Therefore, what could be the legitimate deeper reasons?
  1. Employ the Socratic method to engage in debate.9
  • What type of dialogue training will be helpful for our officers…especially when they stop a BIPOC? Yelling and screaming from both parties will shut down communication. How can an officer calmly (verbally and non-verbally) approach a vehicle and a conversation to communicate clarity while he or she is talking?
  1. Be disposed to learn something new.10 Already understanding that police lights and sirens can most likely dysregulate a person of color, how can the vehicle be approached when the officer is coming with the mindset, “How can I learn something about this human being?”
  2. Don’t be afraid of courage.11 Have the courage to admit that you are highly trained as police officer but may need to learn how to engage with someone from a culture you may struggle to relate to. To protect and serve can also mean to protect one’s dignity and serve them as a human being.

As I think through how to talk with my friend, I believe it is important to understand that people who are pulled over have no idea the fear or uncertainty that might be going through an officer’s mind and heart. I’m sure his or her blood pressure has to go up. Petrusek’s book has helped me to understand it’s more about understanding people than being liberal or conservative. I welcome any ideas to pass on to my friend. Now, maybe we can finally have that trauma seminar for the West Caln Police Department?

  1. https://www.fox29.com/news/victim-seeks-justice-ahead-trial-for-west-caln-twp-police-sergeant-charged-for-firing-into-her-moving-car
  2. Matthew R. Petrusek. Evangelization and Ideology. 43.
  3. Ibid. 40.
  4. Ibid. 153.
  5. Ibid. 212.
  6. Ibid. 301.
  7. Ibid. 368.
  8. Ibid. 446.
  9. Ibid. 447.
  10. Ibid. 449.
  11. Ibid. 452.

About the Author

Todd E Henley

Todd is an avid cyclist who loves playing frisbee golf, watching NASCAR, making videos, photography, playing Madden football, and watching sport. He is addicted to reading, eating fruits and vegetables, and drinking H2O. His passion is talking about trauma, epigenetics, chromosomes, and the brain. He has been blessed with a sensationally sweet wife and four fun creative children (one of which resides in heaven). In his free time he teaches at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and is the Founder/Executive Director of Restore Counseling Center.

15 responses to “A white officer and a black woman…”

  1. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Todd,
    I learn so much from your posts. I appreciate how you introduce us to the trauma work you do, the passion with which you pursue your calling, and the healing you bring to others. Thank you for unpacking that frightening scenario with grace for both parties and a wise understanding of trauma response. I hope you get to do that seminar and many more! You highlighted and unpack some big tips from the book. I found that long list helpful too. The one that surprised me the most was the need for strategic retreats. What do you suggest counselors, care-givers, pastors, doctoral students etc. do to honor that need?

  2. Hey Jenny! Yeah, I loved that idea of strategic retreats. I would encourage leaders to intentionally exercise. Exercise has surprisingly powerful effects on the brain, surpassing many antianxiety medications in effectiveness. Brief periods of aerobic exercise can be very effective in reducing muscle tension. If you run or walk briskly you’ll make use of muscles that have been prepared for exercise. This will lower levels of adrenaline and use up glucose released into the bloodstream by through any anxiety. And after you exercise, you’ll experience substantial, long-lasting muscle relaxation.
    The type of exercise that will be most helpful for easing anxiety is aerobic exercise, which makes use of large muscle groups in rhythmic movements at a moderate level of intensity. Common forms of aerobic exercise include running, walking, cycling, swimming, and even dancing.
    Exercise decreases blood pressure and helps your heart rate to beat at a normal pace or what’s best for your body, and it even gives you a boost of energy. So, if you exercise, you’ll get a windfall of extra benefits.
    Reductions in anxiety are measurable after only twenty minutes of exercise. That’s less time that it takes for most medications to begin working. The reduction in anxiety is greatest for people who have higher levels of anxiety to begin with.
    Generally, exercise results in decreased muscle tension for at least an hour and a half afterward, and reductions in anxiety last from four to six hours. If you consider that twenty minutes of sustained exercise may result in hours of relief from tension and anxiety, the benefits are clear. So yes, have strategic retreats and include exercise on a consistent basis. Sorry this was a little long. 😊

  3. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Exceptional post, Todd! I never would have thought to connect Petrusek’s book to traffic stops like you did.

  4. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hello Todd,
    This was a great example. I like the way you used Petrusek, You wrote, “Petrusek’s book has helped me to understand it’s more about understanding people than being liberal or conservative.”

    I am trying to take this lesson into my “field research” at my immigration symposium on March 9th. Focusing on PEOPLE, not just immigration.


    • Whoa! focusing on people not just immigration. Now that’s deep, Russell! I just like the way that sounds because when you think immigration, you have to think people. I’ll be praying about March 9th. GO FOR IT, bro!

      • mm Russell Chun says:

        Thanks Tod.

        I spoke with a the director for “See Life” at Focus on the Family.

        In his program they jump start humanness with a sonogram. From the face of the unborn child is imprinted on the parents and over 87% keep the child.

        I wish I had a sonogram moment for immigration.


  5. Kally Elliott says:

    Wow Todd! Your post was amazing. I learned so much reading your well-constructed, well thought out, syntopical post.

    Your ability to hear both sides of the argument and to lift up the dignity of both sides was humbling – and Christ like.

    While I truly, truly appreciated your entire post the line that stood out to me the most was: “To protect and serve can also mean to protect one’s dignity and serve them as a human being.” This can be used on both sides of an argument. As someone who *tries* to follow Jesus – how can I protect the dignity of my fellow human, who I may or may not agree with, and how can I serve them in love? Gah! Todd! I was so angry when reading Petrusek and you have made me want to (maybe) re-think my anger, or at least how I express it.

  6. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    I feel an extension of my NPO would be to talk to emt’s, firefighters, and police officers about their trauma and grief and train on how to be truly present for each other after trauma incidents. It seems to me we will be exploring unconscious bias in a future book, but the encounters our misunderstandings and biases lead us to is dangerous. I hope you have an opportunity to work with these officers and that we continue to be present to those who do not feel safe in this world. Thanks Todd!

    How do you think Petruseks words on how to argue could be used in situations such as this when not everyone is playing by these rules? Where do we start with our law enforcement? God’s Blessings on you Todd you seem to be the exact right person to bridge this difficult journey!

  7. Hey Jana! You are correct when you say, “difficult journey” Seeing, understanding, and doing life with people who are polar opposites in what they believe has been a blessing but I also see how difficult it is to bridge the two. Jana, at this time, I continue to research and wait without a plan. But it’s exciting to see how different sides and viewpoints have no problem receiving what I teach about trauma, epigenetics, or generational trauma. Maybe part of the answer will be found through this medium…maybe?

  8. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


    Thank you for this post. I admire your ability to see both sides, especially in this story. I appreciate you taking the time to educate us all. It is not an easy position to be in and I am sending prayers your way. If you have the opportunity to train officers, I pray that you can be the voice for those that are not heard but often silenced. I would also recommend De-escalation Training through a cultural lens.

    • Jonita! As expected, you are spot on in every way! So many voices have been silenced and so many cannot see the pain in their quietness or speechless words.
      I truly believe one of the best ways to de-escalate is through a cultural lens and that is part of the challenge because so many people struggle to understand the importance of seeing life from another persons viewpoint. But I’m slowly working on it. Thanks for your prayers, young lady!

  9. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Todd!

    Thank you for your inspiring post, which taught me to better understand other people’s cultures.

    In your context, and concerning the story you are telling, do you find that Petrusek’s alternative solution offer can speak to and answer the challenges that exist there?

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