Maureen Hayden: Skeptical preacher honored by Pence
Thursday, January 14, 2016 10:45 AM
INDIANAPOLIS - The Rev. Charles Harrison is used to spending his nights on crime-ridden streets, working to keep the state’s capital city from seeing another record year of homicides.
But on Tuesday evening, the Methodist pastor and Jeffersonville native was in the office of Gov. Mike Pence, chatting casually with the state’s chief executive shortly before his State of the State address.
It wasn’t their first meeting.
Harrison, whose brother and nephew were murdered in separate incidents of drug-related violence, heads the 10 Point Coalition. The ecumenical group of clergy and ex-convicts patrol what are some of the most violent neighborhoods in the nation – just blocks from the Indiana Statehouse – to preach peace and bring calm.
The Republican governor has met privately with Harrison, as he’s searched for solutions to combat the state’s surging heroin and methamphetamine problems and the crime that comes with them.
“This is a human problem. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue," Harrison said. "And we have to be willing to put aside politics to do what’s in the best interest of people most affected by this violence.”
For his counsel, Harrison, 54, was invited to be one of a handful of special guests acknowledged by the governor during his State of the State address. The group included two mothers whose children died from drug overdoses.
Pence called on legislators to stiffen penalties for drug dealers. He also asked them to find new ways to confront what he called a rising tide of addiction and an escalating cycle of despair and violence. (At year’s end, the murder rate in Indianapolis -- 16.9 for every 100,000 residents – was higher than Chicago's.)
“We must respond with courage and compassion, just the way Rev. Charles Harrison is taking his message of peace and reconciliation to the streets of our capital city,” Pence said in his speech.
The words were deeply personal for Harrison.
When he was 14, growing up in Jeffersonville, Harrison’s 21-year-old brother was shot down in the streets of Louisville in a drug deal gone bad. His brother’s teenage son would meet the same fate years later.
Harrison has spoken candidly about the rage his brother’s murder inspired in him. With friends, he planned to get a gun and kill the men he thought were responsible.
A group of people from his family’s church intervened, urging him to forgive. It was the first step toward Harrison’s eventual decision to become a minister.
Harrison’s introduction by Pence at the State of the State drew sustained, bipartisan applause from legislators.
Harrison was appreciative, though not much impressed.
He fears there may be a lack of political will for lawmakers to devote the resources needed to combat addiction, poverty and other root causes of crime.
“The people most affected by violence don’t care about politics,” he said. “They just want peaceful and safe neighborhoods.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Indiana Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden