Black clergy look for ways to help all people feel safe

The local African American Pastors Alliance aims to speak briefly and separately to its various congregations at weekend services about racial anger and unrest nationally.

Then alliance members hope to speak to Bartholomew County’s black church community at large at a prayer gathering next week about this week’s police shootings of two blacks and the subsequent killing of five police officers Thursday in Dallas.

The Rev. Mike Harris laid out that probable scenario Friday afternoon. Harris said he did so with what he said was serious concern and some fear of problems that could surface locally if the issue were not addressed directly.

“We as a pastors alliance certainly never believe in violence,” Harris said. “But we certainly believe that we do have to find a way to make all our citizens and our officers feel safe.”

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Harris took action after the killing of Alton Sterling by a white officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, occurred Tuesday outside a convenience store. He talked with fellow alliance member the Rev. Frank Griffin and left messages for fellow members Bishop Charles A. Sims and the Rev. David C. Bosley.

The following evening, Philando Castile of St. Paul, Minnesota, was shot and killed by a police officer after a traffic stop for a broken tail light.

“I certainly believe that black lives matter,” Harris said. “But I believe that blue (police) lives matter, too.

“So, continuing to educate the black community about traffic stops is important: putting your hands on the steering wheel, making no sudden movements and telling them what you’re doing.

“I do all of that myself. I regularly have reminded my sons. It’s a start (toward solutions). And this definitely should not be a finger-pointing exercise.”

Harris added that the alliance also hopes to meet soon with Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde and Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers and later Mayor Jim Lienhoop.

Sims, who once worked for the Indiana State Police before entering the ministry, said he was struggling to understand all three shootings. He said his No. 1 priority as a clergyman today is to call people to prayer.

“First of all, I’m praying for protection for the community,” Sims said. “I’m praying for the safety of our sons and daughters. I’m praying for the protection and safety of all our police officers.

“I’m also praying for all officers to do the right thing. And I am praying for peace.”

Sims, who frequently has spoken of living through the pain of racism in the 1960s and beyond, said he is concerned that the country may be approaching a state of anarchy on racial matters and division.

“This is a very sad day — actually, a very sad week — in America,” Sims said. “I’m looking at the total complexity of things. And we cannot examine any of these shootings separately.”

Griffin said continued education of black residents is a must.

“Right, wrong or indifferent, I see all three situations this week as connected. And let me say that what happened in Dallas was horrible and not at all justifiable.

“But if there’s a way to prevent the first two from happening, then we avoid the horrific killings in Dallas.”

Griffin said he sees the pastors’ first order of group business as a renewed need to educate the black community here and in its area churches.

“We need to continue to address how to safely address situations such as these (with police),” Griffin said. “We need to be aware and prepare.”

More than once in the past couple of years, pastors either at local, public race-relations meetings or gatherings at their churches have spoken on correct behavior if engaged in a police traffic stop.

“We always have to remind people, and even ourselves,” Griffin said. “Now, we don’t yet know the entire scenarios (in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, or in Falcon Heights, Minnesota). But there may have been some panicking or overreacting, and precious lives were lost.”

The Rev. David Bosley mentioned that the alliance is eager to continue its work alongside local police departments to prevent officer-citizen tensions locally.

Bosley, also a chaplain with the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, spoke briefly with Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers late Friday morning by phone.

“The pastors alliance members will work to cross-pollinate our understandings,” Bosley said. “I know that this is important, and I know there is significant unrest among African Americans locally at all levels.

“As long as this has been an issue in the nation, the tension builds. We sometimes can find a way to relieve some of the pressure. But actually, things still are cooking, so to speak, until there is real change,” Bosley said. “And I want to assure community members that we have a strong nucleus of leaders locally aiming to affect real change.

“And we realize that change will have to be tangible and significant.”

Bosley said people must be willing to make progress slowly.

“What got us to this point didn’t happen overnight,” Bosley said. “And the change to get us out this won’t happen overnight, either.”