TO: BBUUC members and friends
FROM: Ken Christiansen, BBUUC ICARE Justice Ministry Coordinator
The police murder of George Floyd nearly two weeks ago has refocused our nation’s collective attention on the reality of racism in our society. BBUUC members have reacted in many ways ranging from joining prayer vigils to joining local protest marches; from posting strong feelings on Facebook to sending money to organizations working for change; from talking with their friends and neighbors to communicating with their political representatives.
Since 2014, many BBUUC members have been directly working for change through BBUUC’s affiliation with ICARE, Jacksonville’s Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment. More than half of ICARE’s 38 religious congregations are African-American. Crime and Policing, Restorative Justice for youths, and effective mental health Crisis Intervention Training for all police officers are issue areas in which ICARE is currently working.
Accomplishing change in systems takes time. It took eight years to get law enforcement officers in Duval County and throughout the state to change from arresting youths for youthful offenses 75% of the time, to issuing Civil Citations 85% of the time. Civil Citations require youths to meet with a Neighborhood Accountability Board, make restitution, and get counseling as needed. Recidivism with the Civil Citation process is about 4% compared to over 20% for arrests. Nonetheless, some hardliners in the criminal justice system and state legislature want to go back to arresting youths. ICARE and its ten sister organizations in other Florida cities are still there, working to keep Restorative Justice for youths in the criminal justice system as well as in schools.
ICARE congregations voted to engage the Crime and Policing issue several years ago after numerous incidents involving encounters between members of ICARE churches and police were lifted up in ICARE House Meetings. The most egregious of these incidents involved a member of the B’Hai congregation who called police, asking them to help calm down her ex-husband who was a Viet Nam vet with severe mental issues. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Deputies did calm him down – by choking him to death. Sound familiar?
This is one of the factors that has led to ICARE’s current efforts to get JSO to institute a nationally accredited form of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for all officers that answer calls. JSO insists that all officers are currently getting CIT training. They are getting it in the academy. Where CIT training is most needed and proven most effective is after officers have some experience in the community. Many if not most daily calls where police officers need to take some action involve either mental health or substance abuse issues. Learning to de-escalate these situations without using physical force is a major goal of CIT training.
Eight BBUUC members have attended one or more (some many) ICARE Research Committee Meetings this year. One, Molly Brady, is on the Steering Committee for the Health and Mental Health Research Committee which is working most directly with the issue of Crisis Intervention Team training. The results all of the ICARE Research Committees work toward include finding solid, winnable solutions for the issues presented and bringing these solutions to the attention of elected and appointed community leaders who actually have the power to make change happen. All ICARE Network members, of which BBUUC has 22, recruit people to come to the Nehemiah Assembly each spring where community leaders meet their constituents and answer questions designed to elicit specific needed changes. In 2019, 70 BBUUC members and friends joined the over 1,500 persons attending the Nehemiah Assembly. The 2020 Nehemiah Assembly was not held because of the Coronavirus epidemic.
Racism can be fought in many ways as mentioned at the beginning of this article. While the current marches will hopefully lead to change in laws and practices at the national level, the input for change at the local level that Church Based Community Organizations (CBCO) like ICARE offer is essential. You can be a part of this effort by joining as a Network Member when we have our House Meetings in the fall and/or by attending the Nehemiah Assembly when it happens again. You can also help by investing in the work of ICARE. As of May 26, seven ICARE Network Members have invested a total of $1,415 in the work of ICARE in 2020. Three of these investors have asked their bank to send a small amount each month while the other four have given lump sums. The citywide ICARE budget supports three full time staff members and training delivered locally and regionally for all ICARE Network Members. ICARE is affiliated with the Direct Action Research and Training Center (DART) network of Church Based Community Organizations, accessible at https://thedartcenter.org.
We believe in what we are doing. It is fully integrated anti-racism work in our own community that has a positive effect on the life of the larger community. For more information about any aspect of ICARE’s work, email ICARE@BBUUC.org or contact any of the BBUUC ICARE Justice Ministry Team Leaders: Molly Brady, Karen Christiansen, Ken Christiansen, Carole Hawkins, or Cindi Jorgensen.
If inclined to invest in the work of ICARE in Jacksonville, checks can be sent to ICARE Treasurer, 2650 Park Street, Jacksonville, FL 32204. That same address can be used to direct monthly bill-pay investments sent by your bank. For instance, $17 per month = $202 per year. Or, one time donations can be placed through PayPal at https://www.paypal.com/donate/?token=S5HDh6jrR5ZxCCGECYO_cJcFtGR8g7Whktm8-0vmeB7Bi67RcaUSorCysCez6YfTTABXhG&country.x=US&locale.x=.
Yours for greater justice in Jacksonville,