Local service seeks community unity following police-involved shootings

What is being described as a “service of reflection” in the aftermath of the July 7 shootings in Texas will be conducted in Columbus.

The half-hour observance, which will include addresses by Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop and several local pastors, will begin at 11:30 a.m. Friday on the steps of Columbus City Hall.

Efforts to organize a local community and police prayer event began the day after five officers were killed, seven more were wounded, and two civilians were injured during a downtown Dallas demonstration.

The Dallas sniper shootings took place as protests were being staged regarding the recent killings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota.

Organizers originally began contacting public safety professionals such as police officers, firefighters and emergency dispatchers to participate. But organizers ultimately decided they wanted to attract as many people from different walks of life as possible, Columbus Police spokesman Lt. Matt Harris said.

“This event is not intended to focus on just one event, but to instead try to bring the entire community together,” Harris said.

The Rev. Frank Griffin, pastor of Thy Kingdom Come Ministries of Greenwood and a member of the local African American Pastors Alliance, said his group worked with the Columbus Police and the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s departments to put together Friday’s gathering.

Two members of the alliance, the Rev. Mike Harris, the group’s leader, and the Rev. David C. Bosley, will speak briefly and offer prayer.

Harris, a pastor at Faith, Hope and Love Church of God in Christ, Elizabethtown, will make an opening statement.
Bosley, a pastor at Dayspring Church of God Apostolic, Columbus, will be among speakers offering words of comfort.

“This is an opportunity to show unity, and to have prayer and to show respect (for victims),” Griffin said. “We definitely think that’s a good thing,”

He added that several of the congregations of alliance members still may gather in the future for a discussion of topics raised by the recent tragedies.
Columbus Human Rights Commission chairman Ian Kohen also will offer a brief address during Friday’s event.

The Rev. Larry Rowe of the Second Baptist Church, Columbus, who serves as a chaplain with the Columbus Police Department, was among the organizers.

Rowe said an appropriate theme for Friday’s service would be “love and compassion for those who are going through difficult and trying times. ”

They would include family and friends left behind by the fatal shootings of officers in Dallas and the recent killings of black men by police, Rowe said.

But organizers also want to focus on what is happening in Columbus, he said.

Organizers hope to attract a diverse group willing to stand together as one community, Rowe said.

As the event was being planned Monday, reaction concerning the shootings in Dallas was expressed during the weekly meeting of the Bartholomew County commissioners.

Commissioners Carl Lienhoop and Rick Flohr said the conflict between police and protesters seemed eerily reminiscent to what took place as the Democratic National Convention was being staged Aug. 28, 1968, in Chicago, they said.

That’s when police broke through a crowd of 10,000 anti-war demonstrators and began beating a young man, while the crowd pelted officers with food, rocks and chunks of concrete.

Later, officers sprayed demonstrators and bystanders with mace in a clash that was partially broadcast live on network television.

But what took place in Dallas this month “seems more dire than that,” Flohr said.

Although there are those in Bartholomew County today who feel what happened in Chicago 48 years ago — or in Dallas last week — never would happen in Columbus, Lienhoop said he disagrees.

“We think we are safe and isolated here,” Lienhoop said. “But in this day and age, there isn’t one person nor any area that is immune.”

Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said he was exceptionally upset by recent violence and race-related demonstrations.

“I try to remind myself while I’m watching those videos that there’s always more to the story than you see,” Kleinhenz said. “We all need to be aware of that, and be patient on our judgments.”

Coming Together: A Service of Reflection

11:30 a.m. Friday, steps of Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St.

Refreshments will be served following the 30-minute service.

The Cal Brand Conference Room on the first floor of City Hall will be the rain location.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.