Sitting in a circle, we’re leaning forward to hear civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein and activist Iris Rolley describe the disciplines adopted by Cincinnati to prevent the use of deadly force by police against unarmed black men. From Ferguson to the White House, people have been turning to the Cincinnati experience of the last 15 years to find tools to reduce the bloodshed.
Suddenly the man next to me raises his hand and calls out, “A police officer has just been shot in Kansas City. He’s in critical condition. Check this on your phone. We need to know about it.”
It’s one of the agonizing intersections of this day, the first anniversary of the killing of Samuel DuBose by a University of Cincinnati policeman in a traffic stop about a minor violation. This is one of vanishingly rare cases where a police killing of an unarmed black man has resulted in an officer being fired and indicted for murder.
In our small circle, mothers, fathers, African-American cops, and young people start haltingly to express the dread that is getting worse with each successive shooting. We are all flailing our arms to grasp some sort of life preserver. How can we pull our communities out of the rage and alienation in which we’re all in danger of drowning?
Women of faith, I think there’s something we can do. Black youth, Black parents, police of all colors, veterans, white men: everyone needs a sanctuary where they can safely come and confess their fear, be heard, hear, and begin to reconcile with each other.
Please, let’s make our churches a sanctuary – a place of safety to confide fears and traumas and to start to understand that the people we fear have so much in common with us! Can we learn, teach, and help all these groups to learn the skills to de-escalate encounters before the guns come out? What about writing circles, litanies of grieving and reconciliation, and drill as diligent as martial arts in the words and gestures that prevent the toxic fight-or-flight response?
Ariel Miller, Ohio-Kentucky Chapter
photo: A mother’s protective arm around her sons during the Black Lives Matter parade in Cincinnati, July 10. The boys’ shirts read: Hands Up: Let’s Pray. photo by Ariel Miller