We’ve been meeting in my living room the last few months, the Allen County Peace and Justice Commission. The topic this week was homicides. In particular, members shared memories of “Healing of the Land” services at the scene of murders. The idea is to symbolically cleanse the land after violence has desecrated it.
I recall seven or eight of us showed up this particular evening: Ann and Fran, Patrick and Teresa and Ned come to mind. We’re Catholic, UCC, Church of the Brethren. I’m the lone Unitarian. Cynthia, my granddaughter, baked cookies and brownies for the group.
The commission meets once a month. We used to be part of the Associated Churches. But some of the more conservative members of that board objected to the commission’s advocacy for gay rights. We parted ways. So we’ve been independent for a while. My impression is that commission members like the sense of freedom the separation has given us.
There’s certainly been plenty for the commission to do. Fort Wayne has more than its share of homicides. By the end of June this year. there had been 23. (At one point the Urban League became so alarmed they convened a big meeting. I don’t know what became of that effort.) In the entire year of 2012, the city counted 30. When I was writing editorials for the paper, I would note that we might have as many as 40 homicides in a year.
Such statistics mean that we can often have a much higher homicide rate than Boston, Cincinnati and other much larger cities.
A week or so after a homicide, commission members will gather outside the house or business near the scene. They’ll mention the name of the victim, read a poem or Scripture and recite together a prayer. It’s a short, solemn ceremony.
Sad to say, we conduct most of these services in the southeast side of the city where a high percentage of minorities live. Most of the victims have been shot with a handgun. I’ve lived on the city’s south side for many years so I know too well the names of the streets where the homicides have occurred – Lewis, Emily, Holton, Hugh, Smith, Oxford.
Another common theme: Most of the victims are young, say, under 30. Some are mere teenagers. It can make you heartsick to reflect on this needless loss.
Often, at the healing of the land service, a neighbor or two will join our group, to ask what we’re doing, to thank us for taking note of this tragedy in their midst.
Over the years, the commission has held other services, not directly related to a homicide, at a park, at the downtown cathedral. We’ve invited outsiders to lead a discussion of how we can have greater influence on peace and justice in the community.
I don’t know whether any of these broader community initiatives have made a difference. We do seem to rate mention in the local newspapers, sometimes on local TV news. I’m proud to be a part of the commission if I’m not faithful about showing up at the healing services.
Over the years, some members from the earlier years have dropped out. But we continue to represent one of the voices in the city raised against violence, on behalf of the hopes and aspirations of everyone.
Meantime, neighbors who appear at the scene where commission members find this simple remembrance meaningful, recognition that precious life has been take and that strangers have taken notice.