A Circle of Healing

A Healing Circle

A healing circle was held on Sunday afternoon at Trinity Lutheran Church on the east side of Madison. Family members, neighborhood residents, and other compassionate community members came together to take a step forward.

Only a few weeks ago I had written about the need for compassion to be authentically demonstrated by police whenever a person dies in their custody or as a result of their action or inaction. [Click HERE and HERE)

It doesn’t often happen, but it would be a great stride forward in every police department — an improvement.

As we assembled and talked on Sunday evening, we found feelings of deep concern, grief, sadness,shock, and at times, anger.

It was a time to share our raw emotions, what we felt, and what we hoped would happen in the future. Many of us wanted to be able to leave with some hope, some assurance that this would never happen again…

These are not easy gatherings and I have learned much from this one.

First, here is a report of the event from the Wisconsin State Journal:

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Neighbors gather for ‘healing’ session Sunday after Nov. 9 police shooting in Madison

 “A neighborhood meeting Sunday about the police shooting of an East Side man was the beginning of a long healing process, said Madison’s former chief of police.

“Still in shock over the Nov. 9 officer-involved shooting that killed 30-year-old Paul Heenan, members of the Marquette neighborhood gathered Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church for what was termed a ‘healing circle.’

“‘There’s lots of raw grief out there,’ said the Rev. David Couper, who was Madison’s police chief form 1972-93. ‘There was a heartfelt sharing. … This is no way of completion. This is the opening of the door for this community to move forward, to just begin the first step of a process of healing,’ he said, adding there likely would be more healing sessions…

“‘I think there’s some questions. This is the kind of thing that the department has to look at its record,’ he said. ‘The problem with this type of process is there’s the legal process going on that can take a long time. It’s a terrible thing. This is the nightmare of just about every police chief.”

“Madison Police Chief Noble Wray attended the gathering, along with Mayor Paul Soglin and the area’s alderwoman, Marsha Rummel.

“Heenan was shot… on the 500 block of South Baldwin Street early Nov. 9.”

 [Earlier in the week, Police Chief Wray reported that the officer involved was responding to a possible burglary and arrived to find Heenan struggling with a man who later turned out to be the homeowner who had escorted Heenan outside after finding him wandering inside his house. On arrival, the officer drew his gun and ordered both men to get down on the ground. The homeowner responded and moved away but, he said, Heenan quickly advanced toward the officer, swore at him, grabbed the officer’s hand and reached toward his gun with the other. Wray said, "The officer could have reasonably believed that deadly force was at issue here."]

Investigations by both the District Attorney’s Office and police department are underway. Also, an attorney has been retrained to represent the man’s family.

To read more: CLICK HERE.

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My reflection so far… What I have learned, what I am learning…

While I have been on countless “de-briefings” about critical incidents while I was a police officer, they have always been internal. The community was not part of them. And the word “healing” was seldom heard.

Last Sunday was my first “healing circle” that involved those whom police have negatively affected.

From Sunday’s experience, and after nearly 20 years away from the police, I see the great importance of such an effort to heal those who have been injured.

I also see that my time away from the police has given me a greater understanding of the community and the role the police play in  the community. Sometimes aging can lead to greater wisdom. I think it has for me. My time serving religious communities along with the grief and losses I, myself, have suffered have also been helpful in preparing me to be one of the group leaders on Sunday.

This was the first of many steps I hope we will take to continue the healing process. There are many pitfalls ahead of us — the report of the district attorney… the findings of the police investigation… and the involvement of one or more courts or commissions. Each has the potential for both healing and harming.

To me, Sunday afternoon was what Madison has always been about — a caring, close community; people who can show love and compassion and layout a positive future.

I also found that it was not the time for the police or city officials to respond. For there was little that they could say given the pending investigations. Chief Wray and Mayor Soglin were present and, appropriately, silent. For them to speak would not have been well received at this time. One day both of them will have to address the community and its concerns. This was not the time and I thank them for their silence.

As we all try to move forward, I pray we may love and respect one another enough to continue to walk together and support one another. This event has harmed all of us. Let the healing slowly begin… and let us keep everyone who has been harmed in our thoughts and prayers and provide strength to those who supporting and comforting those who are wounded and grieving.

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About improvingpolice

I served over 20 years as the chief of police in Madison (WI), four years as chief of the Burnsville (MN) Police Department, and before that as a police officer in Edina (MN) and the City of Minneapolis. I hold graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and Edgewood College in Madison. I have written many articles over my years as a police leader calling for police improvement (for example, How To Rate Your Local Police, and with my wife, Sabine, Quality Policing: The Madison Experience). After retiring from the police department, I answered a call to ministry, attended seminary, and was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. At the present time, I serve a small church in North Lake (WI), east of Madison. Sabine and I have nine adult children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is also a retired police officer and we both continue active lives.

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