Progress in Santeria-Police Relations

Considering recent troubles in Florida, relations between Florida police and practitioners of Santeria haven’t been the best. So it is encouraging to hear that Miami-Dade County police officials are taking a progressive step in bettering relations between law enforcement and this often-misunderstood faith.

“…leaders of the [Santeria] faith are hailing a recent decision by Miami-Dade County police officials to include in their Law Enforcement Handbook a reminder that the U.S. Constitution protects the humane killing of animals in religious ceremonies. Yeyefini Efunbolade, a Santeria priest who lives in Hollywood, expressed hope that the message will spread to Broward and Palm Beach counties, and other jurisdictions with reputations for less tolerance for animal sacrifices.”

Lt. Sherry Schlueter of the Broward Sheriff’s Office special victims and family crimes unit was quick to point out that police would still prosecute those who do not engage in humane animal sacrifice, a stance that local Santeria leaders endorse as well.

“‘The most important word here is humane,’ Schlueter said. “If a person kills an animal in a cruel manner, if the knife is not sharp or the kill is not done swiftly, that would be a crime, regardless if it was done as part of a ritual.” [Ernesto] Pichardo and [Yeyefini] Efunbolade said they agree. “We believe that the spirit of the animal will come back to haunt you if you make a sacrifice incorrectly,” Efunbolade said. Santeros, or priests, must undergo extensive training before they are qualified to conduct sacrifices, Pichardo said.”

As the Pagan community has learned over the years, incorrect or incomplete information can lead to unnecessary conflicts and misunderstandings between law enforcement and practitioners of minority faiths. This has led some unscrupulous opponents of our faiths to supply law enforcement with misinformation in order to intimidate us, and further their own religious/political goals. One remedy is to support Pagan organizations that engage in and advocate better communications between service personnel and modern Pagans. There may be times when we can’t avoid having the police at our door, but we can hope to avoid incorrect perceptions and hostile interactions through better education and information.