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Al Heggins: Let’s have a Stop the Violence Summit

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Al Heggins

Al Heggins

Dear Mayor Karen Alexander, Chairman Greg Edds, Sheriff Kevin Auten, schools Chairman Josh Wagner and Other Elected Officials:

I hope you are awake at night like I am, because I’m agonizing about the state of the Salisbury community. Our home town. The place where I live with my husband, sons and daughters. The place where I cry for the families who’ve had sons and daughters ripped from life by violent crime.

We cannot sit back and watch another young life be tragically taken by unrestrained, unchecked and unmanaged violence. We cannot let the families touched by the violent death of a loved one have those deep wounds salted over and over again as they agonize with the newly inducted family into the maelstrom of violent death.

I’m asking you to please partner with Women for Community Justice to convene a Stop the Violence Summit.

Women for Community Justice has an assemblage of committed, talented and capable women to make this happen. And we need your help. Because this is your community, too. I am stepping up and offering my professional services free of charge.

What we need from you is this: to show up. Bring police officers, sheriff’s deputies, the school superintendent, students, executive staff, educators and the willingness to actively listen—without being defensive.

What we will do is: get the community there, facilitate discussions, have flipcharts and markers, capture and compile information for mass distribution, and expect the solutions generated collaboratively will be put into action.

Following is the format so you have an idea of how we can garnish substantive content, generate action steps and start building authentic trust. The format would consist of facilitated conversations with large and small groups.

• Plenary session: welcome, introductions, purpose;

• Break-out for small group sessions: tables seating 12-15 with traditionally marginalized community members, the always heard community members, students, law enforcement, elected officials, educators, nongovernmental organizations, healthcare providers, clergy, artists, etc. Participants would actively listen to each other’s concerns and collaboratively generate solutions. This information will be captured by facilitators.

• Group reports; reconvene to hear reports from the small group sessions.

• Draft an action plan based on the information from the collaborative break-out sessions;

• Discuss and decide how to move forward with the action plan.

This may not be perfect, but we have to act. And we have to act now. There is a huge barrier to trust between local government, law enforcement and marginalized populations: human beings who are poor, mentally disabled, black, Latino, Asian, Native American, Muslim, transgender, have prior records, gay, lesbian, immigrant, homeless, physically challenged, non-English speaking and non-Christian. Unfortunately, some of our most marginalized neighbors check multiple boxes.

Now for the messy truth.

For those of us who are not elected officials, please listen with an open mind and heart. We have a responsibility. It is not meant for our elected officials to do this work alone. We elected them to office to carry out the duties of governance. But we have to be clear about what we want. It’s clear we all want a safe, non-violent city. Let’s dig deep and find whatever it is we need to be civically engaged. Let’s do what it takes to really love our neighbor.

We have to own the fact that we play a part in setting the tone in our communities. We’ve got to be responsible for our children and our neighbors’ children if that is what it takes. When crime is committed, we need to find a safe way to report it.

Elected officials, please listen with an open mind and heart. Consider and acknowledge why some people don’t come forward. For example; a black person may have knowledge of a crime. Why should this black person come forward when the chair of the county commission jokes about lynching? Or the city manager explains without apology why the police chief stated he was tired of black people saying they are afraid of the police? Those statements are beyond insensitive. They’re downright hurtful and show no regard, no care or respect.

Own the fact that elected officials set the tone for executive staff or they allow the tail to wag the dog. By condoning or being complicit with a tone set by an employee, a tone which may not be healthy for the whole community you took an oath to serve.

Elected officials, if you do not want to act on this proposal, let the public know why and come with a plan that we can support.

Thank you.   

Al Heggins

Women for Community Justice is organizing this summit. To support the effort email alheggins@humanpraxisinstitute.com

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