Clark County advisory committee formed to combat and prevent racial injustices

Carl Ruby, senior pastor at the Central Christian Church, and Springfield Police Chief Lee Graf, talk about the new Community Law Enforcement Advisory Team that has been formed to address racial concerns between Springfield community and law enforcement. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

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Carl Ruby, senior pastor at the Central Christian Church, and Springfield Police Chief Lee Graf, talk about the new Community Law Enforcement Advisory Team that has been formed to address racial concerns between Springfield community and law enforcement. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Local clergy members in Clark County are creating an advisory committee that aims to address and combat systemic racism while working with local law enforcement agencies.

“The purpose of the group is to come up with measurable action steps that will contribute toward creating conditions were things like the murder of George Floyd can’t happen,” said Carl Ruby, the senior pastor at Central Christian Church in Springfield.

Floyd was an unarmed black man who was killed while in Minneapolis police custody. Officers were caught on video holding him down and one officer was shown kneeling on his neck for about eight minutes. His death has caused national outrage and has been followed by a series of protests throughout the country including in Springfield.

“I believe that we are witnessing a movement of social justice. I’m so proud of these young people that have taken to the streets and protested, and taken to the streets peacefully,” said Ernie Brown, who is the senior pastor at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Springfield.

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The decision to create the Community Law Enforcement Advisory Team was made on Wednesday. The team will involve a number of pastors and faith-based leaders from across various denominations of Christianity. Ruby said he plans on reaching out to local leaders of different faiths and members of local law enforcement will also be closely involved. Those agencies are the Springfield Police Division and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

“It is very important that there are black, Latino and Muslim voices participating in this process,” Ruby said.

Four officers involved in Floyd’s death have been charged. However, that decision came days, for one officer, and more than a week, for the others, after Floyd was killed May 25.

The decision to press charges against those officers was praised by Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland in a statement on Thursday.

“I stand with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on the action he took yesterday into the investigation of George Floyd’s death,” Copeland said. “All Minnesota police officers involved have been charged, and an existing charge has been upgraded. Attorney General Ellison’s decision was a move forward toward carrying out the justice and fairness that’s been denied to African Americans for far too long.”

Brown said this is a systemic problem and that laws are going to have to be put into place that do not protect those that would abuse their power or authority, especially a member of law enforcement.

“We aren’t going to be able to heal unless there is change. There has been some progress over my lifetime. But every time the scab forms, it’s pulled off. And every one of these names that we can go through, of the men and women who were innocent and died needlessly, it pulls that scab off.”

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In Clark County, the newly formed group aims to help combat racial injustice as well as build stronger community relations with local law enforcement.

“We are working with law enforcement to be as proactive as we can be to put authentic and realistic policies in place so that every community member is respected and enjoys equal protection from their public safety officers,” Brown said.

That could include making sure measures are in place that make sure racial profiling, unfair treatment and the use of unnecessary force does not occur in the community.

“That they are receiving training to work on their implicit bias they might not be conscious of. That they work on building relationships with the community instead of seeing the community as the enemy,” Brown added.

Springfield Police Chief Lee Graf said this is also an effort to expand efforts and reach more people when it comes to his department forging and maintaining relationships throughout the community. He said it also presents another opportunity to share challenges faced by local law enforcement.

“It would be nice when there is something going on in our community to be able to mobilize community leaders and let them know what is going on and let them know what we are facing,” he said on Thursday.

Clark County Sheriff Deborah Burchett did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

Ruby said as a white pastor himself it is very important for white members of the community to take part in the conversation and listen to people of color who share their experiences.

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