East side ministers provide buffer between police, community

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Between IMPD and struggling neighborhoods in the city there is sometimes a "no man’s land" where a mediator is needed to translate the messages from both sides to the other.

On the east side of Indianapolis, on that middle ground, stands the clergy which is literally working the streets every day to keep the peace.

“What we do as clergy is we go in front of the problem. We pray certainly for the problem, but we mediate the problem,” said Dr. Michael J. Bluitt, Vice President of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance which had just concluded its monthly meeting at Galilee Baptist Church on East 25th Street. “Nine times out of ten the clergy knows those young people who are caught up in those embroiled situations.”

Rev. David Hampton, Deputy Mayor for Neighborhood Engagement under Mayor Joe Hogsett, said he is “under no illusion” that the kinds of urban explosions that have rocked countless American cities after police action shootings, “couldn’t happen here,” but points to the ongoing contact between city leaders, IMPD, community groups and clergy as a calming influence that permits cooler heads to prevail during a crisis.

Rev. David Greene of the Concerned Clergy agreed.

“One of the reasons we have not had a Ferguson is the relationship between the clergy and the powers to be downtown and the community,” he said. “Somebody has to bridge that gap so that we work together to address issues in a proactive way instead of reactive. You can’t wait until a crisis to become involved in the conversation.

“If we don’t have the relationship, that’s why things blow up. When you look at the history of things that have gone on in other cities, almost everything goes back to relationships. The lack of a relationship and if we wait until a crisis to start dialoging, then it's too late.”

Greene also points to enlightened IMPD policies regarding transparency and Crisis Intervention Training as helping to defuse tense encounters such as last Friday evening when officers used stun guns and not sidearms to take down a man hallucinating on PCPand holding a knife to his son’s throat.

“What you saw was our police department, through its CIT training, having officers that are better equipped to deal with a mental health mental illness issue,” he said. “That’s the difficulty that that officer and all the officers were placed in. ‘What do we do? Obviously we’ve got a mental health person here but we’ve got to save the life of a baby. We don’t want anything to happen to them.’”

For years, King Ro Conley has literally been the voice of Indianapolis on the radio and in public.

Currently he handles political outreach for the ministers and has developed his “ambassador of goodwill” principles for clergy to deliver to the congregations every Sunday.

The spiritual points include, “Bring your patience with you, lay down your gun, pick up a handshake, let a clenched fist be solidarity not anger,” and more.

Conley said after the meeting of the alliance, he was headed to the printer to pick up more business cards and fliers touting his five spiritual points because of the thousands of copies he had sent to Detroit and Chicago for ministers in those violence-plagued cities to share with their churches.

“If somebody leaves their gun at home in a drawer, you can’t shoot it if you don’t have it,” said Conley.

Dr. Bluitt recalled the hundreds of weapons taken off the streets of Indianapolis in 2012 during a $15,000 gun buyback program sponsored by churches, and said the times are right for another, perhaps trading firearms for laptop computers instead of cash.