Knowing our neighbors

  • Friday, August 29, 2014

Mojo, Isabelle and I have, like most folks, been following the tragedy in Ferguson, Mo.

There are so many aspects to it. It touched so much in me personally.

Isabelle and Mojo know that my doctoral work was in criminal justice.

“What got you interested in that area?”

“Well guys, the first church I served was in a small town south of Atlanta, below what we refer to as the “gnat line.”

Daddy King, Martin’s father, was from that town. The town was and still is half white, half black.

One day the mayor, who was a member of the church, came to my office seeking help.

It seemed that the governor was getting ready to take away the town police force’s ability to issue tickets. (That would have been a disaster since the town was right next to I75, but that’s another story.)

There had been a number of instances of illegal search and seirzures. Young men, particularly young black men, were being stopped without cause.

I visited the police department. There were 12 members (very Biblical).

The Captain looked like Douglas MacArthur. He had gold braid all over him. His son was the lieutenant. His son-in-law was the sergeant. All the officers were white.

I suggested to the mayor that I, and other ministers in town, could begin by getting to know the situation better.

So, we took turns riding in patrol cars, particularly during the hours when the incidents had occurred.

Guess what happened to the illegal searches?”

“They stopped.”

“Yep. And today, that small town has an outstanding police force that mirrors the diversity of the community.”

“So you began to study the criminal justice system in more detail. What did you learn?”

I learned that when air conditioning goes into neighborhoods, crime goes up. Folks don’t go outside anymore.

They don’t sit on the front porch or go for walks. They don’t know their neighbors.

“Knowing our neighbors is so important. And by extension, neighbors includes police officers.

Community based policing is still the most effective way to protect and serve.

Relationships are key and it is too late to build relationships when a crisis hits.

The City of Georgetown is fortunate to have a police chief, Paul Gardner, who understands the importance of community-based police work.

I rarely see him in uniform, no gold braids. I do see him all over the place.

Visiting the kitchen at Friendship Place Ministries.

Attending a meeting of the Early Learning Council.

Standing in line at a local bakery.

Thank you Paul. You are a great role model. If we learn or relearn anything from the tragedy of Ferguson, it is that relationships and the sensitivity that comes from them is more powerful than armored personnel carriers.

PS From Me and Isabelle: Mojo had a bad episode a couple of weeks ago. We thought that we might have lost him. He bounced back and for that we are grateful. And we are grateful for those of you who expressed concern.

The wisdom Mojo has gleaned over his 16-plus years has taught us another lesson.

No matter whether it is a feline, canine, or human, never assume that you will see the other again.

Always treat each encounter as if it will be the last time.

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