By Theresa D. McClellan
For the Star
With the bodies of civilians and police officers mounting in the streets and the growing rhetoric, animosity and war of words exchanged in social media causing more separation, one former Fort Bend County man now living in Dallas said he had to do something to spark change.
“All this blood in the streets is red. Enough,” said organizer Matthew Newman.
So he returned to his hometown of Missouri City and pulled together a panel of “thought leaders” and held a forum Thursday night at the Sienna Library called “Cry Out Houston.”
“I had seen several social media posts from friends and family in Missouri City about Alton Sterling, Philando Castille and the Dallas shootings. But what I didn’t see were steps or posts that lead to change. Not saying that no one saw the need for change, but most don’t move simply because they don’t know how to move, or feel their voice is too small,” said Newman, a former Elkins High School graduate now living in Dallas as an entrepreneur.
“I wanted to be the motivation in my home city who inspired others to “cry out. I wanted to give others an avenue to express their hurt, regardless of how their hurt was viewed by others,” said Newman.
So Newman, 29, called together some friends and mentors and held the forum that attracted about 30 listeners including Missouri City Councilman at Large Chris Preston, dressed casually in a baseball cap and tennis shoes.
The five speakers offered a spiritual and faith based component as well as legal information from attorney Caryn B. Malone of Roxell Richards Law Firm.
“First let me say that what happened in Dallas wasn’t right. The police were trying to protect and for anyone to say they deserve it is not OK,” Malone said.
Each panelist was asked to give their impression of the violence that left two civilians dead in two separate encounters with police and then the resulting violence when a lone gunman at a nonviolent Black Lives Matter protest, shot at 11 officers, killing five of them in Dallas.
The civilian deaths seemed familiar.
“We all know that guy selling CDs outside the store, we may not buy anything from him but we don’t want anything to happen to him,” said Malone.
“And I keep seeing Philando and the girlfriend who was so calm with her child in the back seat. I thought of the children and the son crying he wants his daddy, if that doesn’t touch your heart, you need to check it.”
She explained civilian rights. Officers can pull you over for reasonable suspicion, a stop and detain. If you’re the one being stopped, remain calm and be quiet.
“Be polite, your job at the end of the day is to get home. I don’t want you arrested or end up dead. Pride come before the fall, put your pride aside and get home,” said Malone.
Newman served as moderator on the panel. While all agreed for the need to remain calm if stopped by police, Newman noted that it is difficult with the realization that unarmed black men have been shot and killed by police with no consequences.
That lack of consequences was the impetus for the Black Lives Matter movement. But the pushback from some hearing the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and responding with the phrase “All Lives Matter,” again brings division, said the panelists.
“When we have police seemingly targeting African-American men, how can we stay calm? What is working on the inside of us that causes us to react, what do we do?” asked Newman.
For Undrai Fizer, head of the Kairos Center, a spiritual think tank in Houston, the issue cuts both ways. He prefaced his statements by explaining he was not trying to blame the victim.
“I know what it’s like to be a man, a husband and a father and there is a feeling in me that I’m coming home from a police stop. But when you are hiding something, it’s hard to look calm if you are stopped,” said Fizer.
Fizer, the Rev. Ikki Soma, head of the multi-racial City of Refuge Church in Houston, and gospel singer VonFrederick Gipson, all emphasized the importance of a connection to God to keep them and others safe in police encounters.
Fizer took it one step further and said in order to demand respect, “we have to respect ourselves.
“We have to stop talking and embrace ourselves. There are so many dysfunctions we tolerate as normal within ourselves. We don’t protest when we kill one another and it creates this energy, that releases other people not to care,” said Fizer.
Councilman Chris Preston said he appreciated hearing the conversation. He reminded them that politics is an important component of the evening.
“In these trying times, it requires all hands on deck. It’s not the police against the community. We are faced with challenges and we don’t have the largest budget. But we have to have public safety advocates, if you see something, say something.”
Porter encouraged the crowd to attend council meetings and to get to know the police chief.
“We have a wonderful police chief and we have ride-alongs. We have a boxing gym for youth and a place to teach them financial skills. We can work together to make this the best city it can be, that is what we desire,” he said.