Team assembled to diffuse community conflicts - Catholic Courier

Team assembled to diffuse community conflicts

In the years preceding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States, the Diocese of Rochester engaged in a series of interfaith dialogues that emphasized support and respect among area faith communities.

The relationships established through those dialogues helped the diocese respond with support for the local Muslim community following the 2001 terrorist attack, explained Bernard Grizard, diocesan director of Parish Services.

"This whole rich (interfaith) history … was the guide for us to try and cope with 9/11," he said. "The more we collaborate and dialogue, the better we can develop trust … which will help us cope with whatever comes forward."

Similar concepts of preparation and dialogue are elements of a Community Response Team being developed over the past few years by the United Rochester Justice Committee, explained committee member Cynthia Herriott Sullivan, who also chairs the Community Response Team. Although it has unofficially addressed recent local events, the team’s members move into training mode this fall.

The Community Response Team’s mission is to "promote communication, trust, community education and a positive, non-violent response to events or issues of community concern as well as engage in activities to raise awareness about racism and inspire a more inclusive and creative approach to solving community problems," according to the draft of the Community Response Team which was provided by Grizard.

Grizard is one of the faith representatives on the team, which also includes staff from the Monroe County District Attorney and Public Defender offices, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, the Rochester mayor’s office, the Monroe County executive’s office and the Rochester City School District, as well as such community leaders as Herriott Sullivan. Herriott Sullivan likewise contributes law-enforcement experience to the team, having worked as a lieutenant with the Rochester Police Department until 2009.

Grizard connected with Herriott Sullivan when Bishop Salvatore R. Matano asked him to represent the Diocese of Rochester at Unite Rochester Justice Committee meetings, and Grizard subsequently became a member of the Community Response Team.

"As a religious community, we have a key role … and can help our community to be more united and have a sense of belonging to face the challenges we are facing," including racism and poverty, he said.

The Community Response Team’s specific tasks will include the following:

* Responding to crime scenes at the request of police.

* Facilitating communication between the community and respective government agencies on events or issues of concern.

* Collaborating with local officials to prevent or mitigate disorder or violence related to events or issues of concern.

* Serving as an objective sounding board regarding police or other governmental procedures/policies.

* Helping to control rumors.

Herriott Sullivan and Grizard said the team could have been called upon to diffuse conflicts that arose during a Black Lives Matter protest on East Avenue in Rochester over the summer. Members did conduct a debrief session with police and other officials following the East Avenue protest that led to the arrests of 71 people, she said.

In August, security concerns surfaced after it was rumored that "Latinos Unidos," a newly formed group that supports the "Black Lives Matter" movement, would stage a rally in front of Rochester’s Public Safety Building.

So Herriott Sullivan took action. On her own, she called the rally’s organizer and clarified that the event was not going to become a large-scale protest. As a follow-up to that conversation, she also set up meetings among members of the group and Police Chief Michael Ciminelli, thus avoiding an unnecessary escalation of police presence at the rally, she added.

The Community Response Team "clarified some miscommunication … without being officially called into action," said Herriott Sullivan.

"A lot of the time what we’re able to do is connect to the community … (with) colleagues we know to call and weigh in" on issues or incidents, she added.

Establishing connections will help make the team most effective, Grizard added, as members follow a three-pronged approach to community interaction: collaboration, communication and commitment.

"We have systemic problems … that are not going to be changed overnight but affect the way we try to find answers," he said. "When we try to be more collaborative, try to understand situations, to find respect, try to engage various groups … that will be critical for the success of all this (effort)."

The team next moves into a training phase, which will be led by local and national presenters this fall, Herriott Sullivan said.

"The tricky part is we’re preparing for something we don’t know," Grizard said of anticipating potential conflicts between community groups.

In order to be ready for any crisis or situation that arises, though, Herriott Sullivan said that the team needs to increase the number of Hispanic participants and recruit from other faith communities. The team plans to reach out to local organizations in hopes of adding members who are credible and connected within their respective communities, she said.

"We have to be willing to move out of our silos," Grizard said. "A more holistic approach will help us develop a sense of unity."

 

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