Guest Blog from Amicus Communications Director Steve Nelson
When the Amicus Peace Circle first came together in early 2010, Russel Balenger remembers a few common denominators among the members.
“We all mistrusted the police and felt they didn’t trust us either. More importantly though, none of us wanted to go to another funeral for one of our children or grandchildren.”
As family and neighbors of teenagers involved in violence and gang activity, many of the peace circle members had experienced the pain of watching their children fall prey to violence. Adding to that pain, circle members had encountered police officers who seemed to believe that parents and relatives of gang-involved teenagers were guilty by association.
Through the Peace Circle, members began sharing stories of their encounters with police. In order to make it a safe place to talk honestly, what’s said in a circle is considered confidential. In general though, members spoke about the painful consequences of an encounter with police which don’t often get discussed.
- Imagine what it’s like to clean up your house after a police search.
- Imagine talking to neighbors who are wondering whether it’s safe to live next door to you, or explaining to your boss why you didn’t show up for work when you were arrested for something you didn’t do. These circumstances are all too real for several Peace Circle members.
In October, the Peace Circle welcomed St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith and members of his administration to their Monday night session. The atmosphere was respectful, offering space for members to tell their stories of encounters with the police and for police to talk about the thought processes and challenges of being “on the street.” One member of the force discussed how when he was young, relationships were such that a police officer on patrol might wave to a neighbor and expect a wave back. He’d like to get back to that, but recognized that it would be challenging.
The evening was only a start to the conversation, but it was a start.
Police committed to staying involved in the circle and all left hoping for a chance to build a different kind of relationship. Judging by what was shared, getting over the hard feelings and mistrust on both sides won’t be easy and may not always be possible, but it’s worth it if we can avoid even one more funeral.