Tonight I attended "Guns, Violence & Peace: A Community Conversation." The event was hosted at First Congregational UCC Phoenix and was a joint effort of the host church, ASU's Project Humanities, the Arizona Faith Network, and the several community leaders that participated. The evening started with a presentation on the history of guns and the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Robert J. McWhirter is a certified specialist in Criminal Law and his opening presentation was an in-depth look into the evolution of guns in the U.S. and our relationship with them and with their regulation. It was during this presentation that I learned I was a "hoplophobe."
Following his presentation there were break out sessions that looked at gun violence through various lenses. Those presentations included:
* Justice and Law Enforcement
* Impact of Violence on School* Black Lives Matters
* Mental Health Issues and Violence
* Impact on the Hispanic/Latino Community
Each person in attendance spent twenty minutes in one session and then twenty minutes at the second session of their choosing.
For my first session I chose "Mental Health Issues and Violence" facilitated by Terrina Picarello. This was totally not what I was expecting it to be. I have a friend with a history of mental illness that lost her life to a police officer. I thought this session would explore our relationships with individuals with mental health issues and address how police officers should act when confronting obviously affected individuals.
Instead we learned about how trauma affects the brain. We learned how kids that grew up in homes with trauma are affected mentally. Also we learned how soldiers and officers who see chaos, violence and even death on a daily basis are affected by this trauma. This brain trauma affects how they behave and this should probably be addressed by police departments and by the military.
The second session I attended was Black Lives Matters (BLM) led by Reverend Reginald Walton who heads the local Phoenix chapter of the BLM movement. Rev. Walton discussed biases and "othering." He opened his session by stating "What happens here does NOT stay here." We conversed about how attendees felt about BLM, how their peers felt about BLM, and what actions should be taken regarding BLM. It was a very powerful conversation.
But then we closed the evening by having all presenters and all attendees gather for a final group discussion and integration. It was then that I realized the powerful conversations being held in all of the break out sessions and I realized I wanted to be apart of all of these discussions. Everyone in attendance spoke enthusiastically about what they learned in the opening lecture and in their break outs. My only regret is that I felt I missed out by being limited to only two groups.
Community conversations like this need to happen more frequently and they should be attended by larger crowds. But unfortunately, most people do not want to address those controversial issues like race, police brutality, and violence in our schools. But lack of conversations allow us to continue to have a lack of action. So for this reason I want to say kudos to the organizations and the host church for making tonight happen. I think everyone there walked away with a bit of inspiration and a bit of hope.