I got behind in my usual posting, etc. because of the events in our Olympia community over the past 48 hours: the police shooting of two African American men in the early morning hours. Without getting into the facts of the shooting, it is enough to say that the fact of it happening raised a lot of emotions in our community. And rightfully so.
The initial struggle is how to turn those emotions into something concrete. Beginning Thursday morning, plans were being made to hold a forum, sponsored by local clergy, where community members can come together to express what they thought and felt. City officials would be on hand to listen.
With the incredible coordination of Danny Kadden from Interfaith Works, it came together in amazing fashion. Temple Beth Hatfiloh–our “house for all peoples” as the quote from the Book of Isaiah adorning our Ark says–was the chosen venue. At 6:00 p.m. the sanctuary was full with almost 20 members of the clergy acting as hosts, local attorney and civil rights leader Reiko Callner acting as moderator, and with city officials, including Mayor Buxbaum, Chief Roberts, City Manager Steve Hall and others on hand to listen.
People spoke eloquently and with emotion. People spoke with respect and with passion. People spoke openly and firmly.
At the same time as this forum, hundreds gathered on the west side of town at Woodruff Park and then marched down to City Hall. Rather than being in conflict, both of these events were important and served a purpose. Many voices were raised to address this rift in our community.
And address it we must. As one speaker said at the forum last night, “we have become one of those communities.” But the hope is that we can do things differently, we can say what we need to say, hear what we need to hear, and listen to whom we need to listen.
Last night was a start.
Here is a comprehensive write up of the forum. The Olympian created a video of some of the speakers:
And these were my introductory comments:
Welcome to Temple Beth Hatfiloh.
This space, this sanctuary, is meant to be a community space. Oftentimes we gather in this space at times of community celebration. Other times, as we do tonight, we gather for difficult community conversations.
We are here because two African American men were shot in the early morning by an Olympia Police Department officer. I for one am not going to get into facts or allegations beyond that, simply to say that this event strikes a note of discord in our community, especially as it reflects our national conversation on law enforcement, race and gun violence.
We all come to this room this evening with our feelings. Feelings of anger, sadness, pain, helplessness, fear. I invite you to check in with yourself now to see how you are feeling at this moment.
And we come to address it head on. And we are convened here not just by myself but by my clergy colleagues from many different faith communities, and I invite them now to rise to join me in welcoming you here this evening.
And so we are here. We know we are not the only gathering tonight. Right now on the west side people are gathering in Woodruff Park to meet and plan and march. That is OK—we act in concert, we are all one community.
And so we are here with intention, with purpose, with open hearts and hands, with emotion, with passion and with prayers for peace, justice and healing.
Welcome, and thank you.