Community healing and reconciliation has been a focus of many nations in response to civil war, genocide, and other conflicts. Over the past 12 years there has been a growing number of high profile murders of African American youth in the United States. Recently the mood of the country has become more acrimonious and the mounting tension has splintered some communities. The rise in murders by police officers have continued unabated and no one has been tried for these crimes, while the continuing climate of senseless shootings of black males gives pause to understanding the reason why.
Some communities have responded to the incidents offering examples of how communities may work together to move forward. Citizens need to feel their presence resonated, their voices heard, and their pain felt in a safe forum if we are to approach healing and reconciliation. That was the charge and commitment of the communities of Sanford, Florida and Cleveland, Ohio. These two cities addressed the strain and strife pronouncing that this was a senseless tragedy for the entire community, not just the grieving family of the Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice. The fork in the road for these two cities was: hatred or healing. They chose healing.
In 2012, the City Manager’s Office of the City of Sanford developed a Nine-point Plan in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin. The City of Sanford sought to transform the community through opportunities to encourage civil dialogue and citizen participation in the planning and transformation of the city.
The Nine Point Plan included the Sanford Police Department working with the Department of Justice in developing a community policing approach. A Police Community Relations Blue Ribbon Panel composed of citizens from all neighborhoods reviewed and recommended best practices for reducing violence in the City. Sanford also developed an anti-violence campaign that recommended initiatives to improve awareness about the effects of violence and its impact on community equilibrium.
The fork in the road for these two cities was: hatred or healing. They chose healing.
The Director of Community Relations established the Office of Community Relations (OCR). OCR addresses past and new disputes to facilitate healing and reconciliation between citizens and the city. An Inter-Racial Inter-Faith Alliance (IRIFA) was established to foster interfaith dialogue. The city expanded its Youth Training and Employment Opportunities by inviting partners to assist the City to help young people with employability skills and opportunities. The reactivation of Sanford Neighborhood Action Partnership (SNAP) aided in improving services to neighborhoods, and empowered neighbors to build their neighborhoods.
Then, in 2014, there was senseless shooting by police of a 12-year-old boy holding an Airsoft replica toy gun in Cleveland. Was he just being a boy or was he threat? Although this debate still resonates, he did not deserve to die. To help heal the wounds of this loss a community efficacy model called CE3 or the Community Engagement, Empowerment & Education framework evolved through a city grant awarded by the federal Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) program. The CE3 model built on the ability of residents to connect with one another, as well as with the police, to establish a network of interconnected programs dictating the willingness of local residents to intervene for the common good, and to hold their local law enforcement accountable based on trust, talking, and transparency. CE3 offered an innovative, trauma-informed approach woven together targeting intergenerational programming and neighborhood pride to help establish positive social norms emphasizing safety, neighborhood advocacy, authentic engagement, and inclusive healing.
Exposure to pervasive community violence greatly impacts the developmental challenges of adolescence, especially black males. Most urban youths will be exposed to some form of trauma related to law enforcement contact and community violence in their lifetimes. This must be addressed. Healing is not a one-time event or experience but rather an ongoing journey where citizens can discuss and envision a future that involves different ways of relating where social justice is a key focus of concern. It’s well understood in the black experience that it takes a village to raise a child. Maybe that local police officer needs to be part of that village. Maybe that officer needs to spend time in the community when not patrolling in order to feel connected to the community, and in return for community residents to see him/her as a normal person. Once this occurs, the potential surfaces for a strong community to build and unite together based on mutual respect and responsibility.
The future requires that social workers, educators, public health practitioners, and police officers join forces to substantially improve the effectiveness of violence prevention programs by acknowledging and addressing the behavioral and emotional consequences of exposure to local neighborhood conditions.
Featured image credit: We are better than this by Jerry Kiesewetter. Public Domain via Unsplash.