Heavy (1/3) - The Chief of Police, a Pastor, and the Director of Public Safety
No, this is not the beginning of a joke, and no, the end of that phrase is not “walk into a bar.”
All joking aside it’s been a heavy few weeks. Heavy. Really, it’s the only word that seemed appropriate to accurately describe the moments, events, conversations, and ironies of recent activity. And it all started with some vinyl banners. Yeah, I know, I was surprised too. The past month has seen a crazy amount of violent activity that you can read about in a previous post, Zoey & the Lost Boys of Chattanooga. We are all about reducing violence in our neighborhood. While we continue to search for the most effective ways to do so we couldn’t, we wouldn’t, be silent so we decided to throw up some banners. It was to buy us time honestly.
Hung in front of the rec center and on each corner of 38th St. in Alton Park they were devoid of prominent marketing essentials such as logo, website, and service times for BCC. We weren’t gonna exploit violence in our community to pursue church membership. It just needed to be said. So we said it. About two days after the banners were displayed I received this text message from Dr. Paul Smith, Director of Public Safety for the City of Chattanooga:
These signs are located on the corner of 38th St. and Alton Park Blvd, directly in front of the Big H. Do you know who is responsible for this? If so, please let me know so I can reach out. I cannot find any contact information on the back of either sign.
I literally cackled. I was driving to a Minion Fundraiser Party at my children’s school and couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the irony. I have been trying to “prove” our commitment to violence reduction in Alton Park for two years now. Banners?! All it took was some banners?! If I would’ve known that’s all it would take to get the attention of Chattanooga PD and the Mayor's Office I would’ve hung some stupid banners a couple of years ago. Somehow a handful of 3’x6’ vinyl banners suspended between steel fence posts legitimized our efforts. I called Dr. Smith and let him know it was us. Of course it was - who else would hang something like that on the southside!
Within a week a meeting was set up with the Chief of Police, a pastor, and the Director of Public Safety. Chief Fletcher wanted to meet with the responsible party in order to negotiate a partnership committed to violence reduction. Dr. Smith wanted to meet with the responsible party in order to recruit them to join the city’s Violence Reduction Initiative. The pastor was already committed and was already a member of the support and outreach committee of the VRI - had been for two years.
We should’ve known it was you pastor. We should’ve known you were responsible for those banners.
Those were the first words of our meeting. For the next 45 minutes an exciting, hope-filled conversation centered around the frontier of a reciprocal relationship between CPD, the City, and BCC. No, it was not a dialogue devoted to me pitching the sincerity or commitment of Bridge City to the efforts. On this occasion, it was the Chief’s turn to offer the hand of CPD in support of our efforts. All it took was some banners. I don’t know why that was the lynchpin of trust, but I’m grateful because I don’t need to prove anything to them anymore. They actually trust me, our motives, and the authenticity of our mission. We still here. We ain’t going nowhere. We do things for the sake of our neighbors and out of love for our neighborhood. No money. No news cameras. No exposes or accolades.
It was a fairly crisp, sunny morning as I made my way back out to the car. I sank into the driver seat and sighed. Heavy. Two years of communication, commitment, and consistency are bearing fruit. Sitting at the police service center with the Chief of Police and the Director of Public Safety hearing words of support and partnership was a goal that seemed forever away. Now it exists in the present. Heavy. Tangible results of habitual presence, hard work, transparency, and dedication paying legitimate, significant dividends. Heavy.
And all because of some banners...
(this is the first post in a series of heavy recollections)