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On love and fear

Clementine Barfield

Clementine Barfield

Week 32 of the occupation

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The news that mattered most this week was not about bankruptcy, emergency management, secret meetings by foundations, city council land deals, or the new mayor-elect. It was the news of death. Newborns, toddlers, teens and adults were killed violently. Some were known, some unknown, one too soon in life to have a name. All were preventable.

Most people are shaking their heads in despair. How can this be happening? How can we live like this? Die like this?

Some courageous young people gathered to demand justice for Renisha McBride, a young African American woman shot in the night by a white homeowner, on whose door she knocked seeking help. We recognize the lethal combination of fear and racism that means all of our children are at risk. This reality, repeated again and again across our country, is all too familiar.

Less familiar are the bodies bleeding in a neighborhood barbershop, the baby shot by bullets aimed elsewhere, the young woman killed after her law school exam. This violates everything we value. It spreads fear, suspicion and self-doubt in ways that shakes us to our core. We recognize the lethal combination of despair and brutality means all of us are at risk.

Many people are asking, “What is happening to us? How do we respond?”

There are no easy answers. But there are those in our community who can help us think about this.

In 1986, as the murders of young people for shoes and coats dominated the news, two of Clementine Barfield’s sons were shot. One son, Derick, died. Facing that grief, Ms. Barfield met with the families of every child shot that year. Ultimately they formed Save Our Sons and Daughters (SOSAD). Transforming grief into action, SOSAD comforted parents, held vigils, conducted workshops, intervened in conflicts, organized youth and worked to create a culture of peace. Clem believed in every murder we lost at least two young people, one to death and one to prison.

Her faith in the power of the community to love and to heal led to a program where the mothers of those who lost children visited their killers in prison. Somehow, out of these encounters, people found their way to forgiveness.

Around the same time, as crack houses began to change neighborhood culture, Dorothy Garner challenged the dealers in her community. She received death threats. Joining with neighbors she co-founded We the People Reclaim Our Streets (WePros), marching weekly against crack houses.

A turning point for WePros came after a drug house shoot-out left six men dead. Dorothy insisted we march to commemorate their loss. As we gathered under the watchful guns of other dealers, Dorothy explained, “We come here today to say we love you. We hate what you are doing in our community, but we love you and want you to know these young men are mourned by us.”

Like Cora Mitchell, who lost her son to police violence, Clementine and Dorothy remind us that violence can only be overcome by love.

This is more than a sentimental notion. In Garner’s neighborhood, crime decreased 80 percent. The truth is, over the last two decades, since the beginning of SOSAD, violent crime in Detroit has been steadily decreasing. From 2000 to 2009 FBI statistics say crime dropped by almost 50 percent.

As late as September of this year, newly installed Police Chief James Craig reported violent crimes were trending downward, with a 5 percent drop in violent crime and a 10 percent drop in homicide from 2012.

This increase in peace did not come from the police. It came from the patient, loving work of countless people in neighborhoods, holding vigils, marching for peace, praying and meeting together to develop bonds of trust and security.

This is the work before us. We need to come together and talk honestly with one another.

Join the Riverfront East Congregational Initiative for a Community Safety Forum on Nov. 20 at 6 p.m. at the UAW, 8000 E. Jefferson.

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