Archive for Sunday, October 4, 1992

BADGE AND BIBLE

October 4, 1992

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With a Bible in his hand, he parts the crowd like a sword, smiling and making small talk over a decidedly non-ecclesiastical hip-hop beat.

It's early in the morning Sept. 26, and it seems the Rev. Leo Barbee is about as far from his church as he can get as he glides through a private party at the TeePee Junction.

"How ya doin'?" he says to a partygoer, extending his hand. "You staying out of trouble tonight?"

The man shakes Barbee's hand and laughs. Barbee and the man, who both are black, together watch at least four white police officers arrest a man who reportedly has been picking fights at the party.

Police push the man onto the hood of a patrol car and cuff his hands behind his back. He complains that the car's hood is hot and is burning his face.

The situation has the potential for a racial confrontation perhaps like one that occurred June 27, when a scuffle between white officers and members of a crowd that had just left a TeePee party sent one officer to the hospital.

But the tension quickly passes, and it doesn't take a leap in faith to believe Barbee's presence may have had a calming effect. The man talking to Barbee says the reverend's visit is reassuring.

"I'VE KNOWN you since I was, what, about like this?" he says to Barbee, holding his hand about three feet above the ground.

Over the past 10 weeks, the TeePee party and similar situations have become an alternative church setting for Barbee and several other Lawrence ministers who voluntarily have been riding with Lawrence police officers on weekend patrol.

"I believe that if Jesus Christ were alive today, he'd be out among the people; not necessarily within the four walls of the church," said Barbee, who began his Sept. 26 ride at midnight and was still going strong at 3:45 a.m.

The ministers participating in the program are affiliated with Ecumenical Fellowship, a consortium of black churches. Their goals are to learn more about police work and help keep the peace. The program grew out of a meeting between ministers and city officials in the wake of the June 27 confrontation.

Barbee and Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin said the program already has had a number of success stories.

Barbee said a few weeks ago, he helped an officer respond to a domestic fight between a man and his girlfriend. By the end, the couple were holding hands and praying.

ASKED HOW often domestic problems are resolved so peacefully, Max Miller, the Lawrence police officer who's escorting Barbee, laughs.

"Never," he said. "Any more, that's never going to happen because we have a new domestic violence law in Kansas that says we have to arrest an aggressor. That makes them mad at us and it makes them mad at each other."

But in situations such as the TeePee party, Barbee said, his presence seems to have a calming effect.

"During the first few weeks, there was a fight at the TeePee that the police said could have been a lot worse if we hadn't been there," he said. "In that situation, I think Chief Olin and Lt. (Charlie) Greer were very appreciative."

He's right. Olin said officers have told him that the ministers have defused more than one potentially volatile situation.

"It's been an incredibly well-received initiative inside the department and was met with great receptivity among the community," he said.

Miller said the presence of Barbee and other ministers have relaxed some tense situations.

"I know if my preacher were to show up at a situation like that (TeePee party), I'd behave better. And I think that in situations like that, they do," he said.

ALTHOUGH Barbee hadn't ridden with police before June, he had developed a streetside demeanor by preaching at night in the red-light district of Wichita Falls, Tex., during the 1970s.

After dealing with drug addicts, prostitutes and gamblers there, he said, Lawrence's nightlife didn't pack many surprises. So far, he said, he hadn't been in a life-threatening situation.

"I'm not naive in the sense it's dangerous," he said. "But I believe I'm protected by the hand of the Lord."

Still, the ministers aren't welcome in every situation.

About 2:30 a.m., Miller and Barbee respond to a report that a man has broken his leg in a fall in the 1300 block of Massachusetts. After Barbee kneels in front of the man and tries to reassure him that he'll be all right, the man tells Barbee he is an atheist.

After a short discussion about religion, the man says, "Please, sir, don't give me any more of this God crap."

Barbee smiles through it all. He said the man didn't offend him.

"The Bible tells us that Christians don't save, they don't convict, they don't baptize. They're witnesses," he said. "I don't condemn anyone."

THE REVEREND thinks that attitude is behind the program's successes.

When the ministers go into a situation, he said, "we try to show people we care." Barbee said that in most calls, he knows someone who's involved.

"I think there's a certain respect people have for you," he said. "They know you're there for them. I think you have to earn the right to be heard, not demand the right to be heard."

In at least two situations, Barbee said, he has exercised his right to be heard by police officials. In one, he said, an officer was disrespectful to a black woman who was involved in an accident.

In the other, officers ignored a large, mostly white party that had spilled into the street.

Barbee said he was concerned that officers would have handled both situations differently had the accident victim been white and had the party been mostly black.

He said police were responsive to his concerns in both situations.

"Our message,'' he said, ``is that we ought to treat everybody the same way."

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