“Healing the Breach” program reveals common ground

In observance of the International Day of Peace*, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty participated in a community discussion titled Healing the Breach: A Community Conversation on Law Enforcement and Citizen Rights. The event was held on Monday, September 21 at Oklahoma City University.

  

  • 0:00 Welcome from Priya Desai of the United National Association
  • 5:21 Music by the Starvation Army Band
  • 12:15 Panel discussion begins, followed by Q & A

  
  
Rev. Jackson is the pastor of East Sixth Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 1139 NE 6th.  He is the President of the National Convocation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a national organization of African-American Disciples of Christ. Rev. Jackson this summer organized an initiative called Occupy the Corners-OKC to curb gun violence in northeast Oklahoma City.

Citty has been Oklahoma City’s Chief of Police since 2003. A lifelong resident of Oklahoma City, Citty began his career with the Oklahoma City Police Department in 1977. He served as Public Information Officer during the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building.

The program was moderated by Rev. Don Heath, pastor of Edmond Trinity Christian Church.

The Oklahoma City event is sponsored by the United Nations Association of Greater Oklahoma City, the Center for Conscience in Action, the Respect Diversity Foundation, the Peace House, Pax Christi USA, Edmond Trinity Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Joy Mennonite Church, Casady Schools Service-Learning Program, and Campaign Nonviolence

Bill Bryant, former president of the United National Association of Oklahoma City, had this to say about the event his organization co-sponsored.

Bill Bryant
Bill Bryant

September 22, 2015 · Oklahoma City ·My impressions of the “Healing the Breach” program at OCU:

First of all, Rev. Don Heath did a great job of moderating the public discussion. It was a hotly charged topic, police & minority relations. Don made sure that many different aspects of the issue were brought out.

I tried to listen to both presenters — Chief Citty and Rev. Jackson — very carefully. There were lots of areas of agreement. There were also some areas of contention, but not as much as you might expect.

Chief Citty impressed me as a man who is trying to manage his police force in an enlightened way. He knows that his department has strengths and weaknesses. He never tried to deny that police misconduct happens from time to time. A well-known example is the case of Officer Holtzclaw who was charged with sexual assault against a dozen different women while in uniform. The chief pledged to support complete accountability for the bad actions of any officer. He encouraged citizens to report misconduct when they witness it. That was good to hear.

The program ventured into a discussion of social problems that exist in our city and the nation. As I interpreted the statements of the presenters, both men favored solutions that would serve to suppress crime and make our community (including police officers) less vulnerable to the actions of violent criminals.

For example, as I listened between the lines, I got the impression that both men would be happy if our society provided greater support for programs to address the problem of domestic violence. Women and children in our community are particularly vulnerable, and it is a problem that isn’t likely to be solved through the criminal justice system alone. We need to think bigger and deeper, outside the box. There are some good ideas in circulation, but funds are in short supply.

Behavioral health services, too. Drug abuse and substance abuse programs. We tend to elect politicians who talk tough about crime and how they will deal with the crime problem. But, if they really want to put a damper on criminal behavior, they should put more public resources into mental health services, etc. An ounce of prevention, you know.

Finally, if we really want to support our police officers, we should do more to keep lethal weapons out of the hands of dangerous people. Chief Citty mentioned the case of Officer Katie Lawson. She was ambushed by a young gang-banger back in 2010. The assailant approached her parked cruiser from the rear, and he opened fire without warning. Officer Lawson was wounded multiple times; she barely survived the attack. (This was only a mile-and-a-half miles or so from where I live).

The OKC police eventually established that the crime weapon was purchased at a gun show in Tulsa. No background check was required because of a loophole in the law. If we really support our police officers, we need to close the gun show loophole.

From my perspective, there are a range of public programs and policies that could help to drive down the crime rate in our community. More youth leadership programs (to abate gangs), more programs to support school completion. Policies to make work more attractive, increase economic equality, raise the minimum wage.

Oklahoma City is fortunate that we don’t have the same problems as Ferguson or Baltimore, etc. But, we do have our share of problems.

As we grow into a world-class city, we need take a good long look at the investments we’re prepared to make.

* Each year the International Day of Peace is observed around the world on September 21 and is dedicated to world peace, specifically a reduction in war and violence. It was established in 1981 by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly and has been celebrated in Oklahoma City since 2008. The theme of the 2015 global event is Partnerships for Peace–Dignity for All.

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