Theater presentation sparks further conversation on police-community relations in Cleveland
Now that a series of theatre presentations aimed at bridging the gap between the community and the police department has successfully concluded in Cleveland, the real work begins—establishing a long-term, in-depth dialogue between law enforcement personnel and the public.
Representatives from the Near West Theater, the United Church of Christ, the cast of the play Uniform Justice, and the community at large have already gathered at the UCC national offices on June 29 to begin that process.
“There was great enthusiasm at the meeting, and a preliminary agenda was set for ‘next steps,’ including the need to include greater representation from city officials and law enforcement personnel among our organizers,” said the Rev. Robert Chase, founding director of Intersections International, and former UCC communications director. Intersections International, a ministry of the Collegiate Church, is a New York-based organization that promotes peace through dialogue. It helped bring the performance to Cleveland during General Synod 2015.
Uniform Justice, a multi-state stage tour, tells the story of an urban neighborhood where community members and police officers come together to search for solutions to the violence that afflicts their streets. It’s objective is to inspire the launch of a long-term community-police-enrichment training in the city. The final performance on June 30 was marked with a standing ovation from the audience.
“The enthusiasm with which the show was received has been deeply gratifying,” Chase said. “Our ultimate goal in presenting Uniform Justice in Cleveland has always been to spark interest in launching a Cleveland-based Community/Police Insight Training process, a year-long process that worked so well for Intersections in Memphis.”
There will be another meeting in the Amistad Chapel on Sept. 3 to talk about Community Police Enrichment Training in the city of Cleveland. This meeting came about after the several performances of Uniform Justice at the three venues (Mount Zion UCC, Trinity Cathedral and Near West Theatre) in the Cleveland area during General Synod 2015.
One of the next steps in the coming months is building a greater Cleveland community-wide groundswell for this work, which Chase believes is an important step to riding the cooperation among city leaders, the religious community and the arts community.
“We cannot follow this pattern without solid support from the law enforcement community,” Chase said. “Since it is important that our numbers expand, we are encouraging the Cleveland community to attend, and to bring friends and colleagues—especially if they have an official capacity with the city or with the police department.”
UCC minister the Rev. Art Cribbs, who was in Cleveland for General Synod 2015, said Uniform Justice is “more than a performance, it is an experience. As a child who grew up in Los Angeles and lived in the midst of the Watts Rebellion, I was pushed back to my youth as I watched Uniform Justice capture the divide between cops and communities of color. The focus on trust, or more precisely, distrust between police and the people they serve is significant for a bridge to a new future. Uniform Justice is powerful and brings forward the essential elements on both sides of a broken relationship.”
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