Police Chief and Township Officials join with Black and Brown community members to break the divide.
By Chuck Gibson
(UPDATED VERSION: APRIL 9, 2021 5:30 P.M)
MIAMI TOWNSHIP-CLERMONT COUNTY, OH (April 8, 2021) – Miami Township Police Chief Mike Mills along with Milford Police Chief Jamey Mills, and other Miami Township Officials just finished a six week program which brought them together with black and brown members of the community.
The program is called “Working Undivided” and is an outgrowth of Living Undivided founded in 2015 by the Crossroads Church to bring people from all walks of life together – undivided. They call the group a cohort. They met for two hours one evening each week for six weeks – 12 hours together in a room – undivided. The 20 person cohort was made up of eight (8) black or brown community members, eight (8) Miami Township Police Supervisors, Miami Township Police Chief Mike Mills, Miami Township Administrator Jeff Wright, and Milford Police Chief Jayme Mills. (For the record, the two police chiefs are not related though they share the same last name of Mills)
It started with an email from Achmed Beighle to each of the police chiefs. He sent it after George Floyd died while being restrained by police in Minneapolis. As a black man, raising his family, and living in Milford/Miami Township, Beighle says his heart was broken to see a black man die like that. He wanted to know what the local police were doing to protect his family. Chief Mike Mills from Miami Township extended an invitation to meet and talk over lunch. The Milford Police Chief was included and the three men met.
“I met during the lunchtime both Jayme Mills and Mike Mills that are (police) chiefs in Milford and Miami Township,” said Beighle. “Like I said, no friends that are police officers and I’m meeting with the guys that are running the department.”
One can only imagine his trepidation meeting with two police chiefs at the same time. Sure he was nervous.
“Yes I was nervous. I was initially,” Beighle admitted. “But, the guys are awesome. Jayme is down to earth. Mike is awesome. Both agreed to Undivided.”
Beighle was familiar with the Undivided program having already participated in a version of the program a couple of years earlier. It was a different setting then. Beighle says they did it more in the homes of the people participating. He calls those people his friends now. They “hang out” together, at least pre-COVID they did.
“We did it through Crossroads, myself and my family,” said Beighle. “We had the journey started by Chuck (Chuck Mingo, Crossroads Minister and program facilitator) a couple years back. It was very powerful.”
Fast forward a couple years and Beighle found himself a part of the cohort for an Undivided program with the police in his own community. Not just the two police chiefs he met over lunch, but eight other police supervisors, the Township Administrator and eight other black or brown people from the Miami Township community himself included. During those six weeks, 12 hours together – undivided, they shared stories and gained understanding and insight into one another. Those shared insights made strong impressions.
“The stories that really resonated with me was from the police officers when they shared: ‘We live in a time when we are looked at as the enemy, but we’re really here to protect and to serve everybody’.” Beighle explained.
Protect and serve is not the police story depicted on social media or the news. What Beighle and the police are used to hearing about is police incidents where something went wrong while police were there to protect and serve the community.
“Unfortunately that depiction, people think that’s how all police officers are,” said Chief Mike Mills.
It hit home for Mills during the heat of the summer in 2020, while demonstrations were happening all around the country, and his 16 year old daughter asked him: “How many black people have you killed?” The question staggered him. His answer? None. Zero. He has never fired his gun in 28 years serving as a police officer.
“They’re here for everybody and they’re not nitpicking any one person in Miami Township,” Beighle said. “It was interesting to learn, and see, that they actually wanted that to be known. I also want to be clear: this thing called police brutality still happens. Unfortunately it happens to people who look like me a lot more on a percentage scale.”
It was eye-opening for Beighle to hear police officials share their emotions about being seen as the enemy and dehumanized. Just as it hit home for Chief Mike Mills to hear from his own daughter the social media characterization of police. Those discussions with the police, with the police chief, shed a new light, grew understanding and lent perspective for Beighle and others like him who participated in the six-week program – undivided.
“It’s like Chief Mills (Mike) mentioned,” said Beighle. “It is not the majority that’s doing it. It is the bad apples causing the problem for the uniform he’s wearing.”
Bringing the community together with new understanding and perspective on how to live undivided is a great outgrowth from the program. The police and Township Administrator Jeff Wright grew from the discussions with black and brown members of the community.
“Even more growth from everybody than I was expecting,” said Wright. “Even though we had the heart and mind to have uncomfortable conversations to grow this community, since this was facilitated, I was appreciative it allowed me to feel vulnerable. Usually conversations about race are superficial.”
The facilitator, Chuck Mingo, Crossroads Church, created an environment for everyone to allow vulnerability. The cohort of 20 was made comfortable with uncomfortable discussions.
They were warned at the outset they would likely offend one another during the six weeks. They were also told they would “respectfully” offend one another. For Wright, it was “something” for everyone to agree to it.
“In doing that, it was a very honest conversation throughout,” Wright said. “I think the relationships we made are lasting. It was more meaningful than any other kind of training I ever had.”
Wright had a sort of “Ah Ha” moment during the program. He has two teenage sons. He learned black and brown parents worry about their teenage sons being stopped by, or interacting with police. That’s something he never had to think about.
“As a father, how I instructed my teen sons, when they were driving, to reflect on things is much different,” he said. “I didn’t have to worry about the same things parents of a black son worry about. I realized I had a luxury I wasn’t aware of.”
Following the six week program, Achmed Beighle and Miami Township Police Chief Mike Mills sat down with program facilitator Chuck Mingo on camera. Mingo served as host handing off questions to Chief Mills and to Beighle. Both expressed excitement about the success of the program and what it will mean to the future of working undivided in their community.
“Today you’re going to hear a story that makes me hopeful for race relations in our country,” Mingo said opening the video discussion.
Chief Mills talked about how this year especially has been a difficult year. He suggested a lot of things stem from the education piece people are missing. The Undivided program helps fill in some of the blanks by bringing people together to share those uncomfortable conversations to enlighten one another in unexpected ways. Mills shared a story about a visit from a friend of his who is a black man with a son who was going to drive to Mississippi during the thick of COVID when people were not traveling on airplanes.
“He told me he had to have “the talk” with him,” explained Mills. “What talk? I asked him. ‘It’s the talk. When you get pulled over, make sure you have your driver’s license and registration above your visor to make sure you’re not reaching for something, not trying to get into glovebox; all you have to do is reach right here and pull it out.’ He explained it to me as the talk black fathers have to give to their sons.”
It was another turning point for Mills. Like Jeff Wright, he has two driver-age children with whom he never had to have that talk.
“That was like a turning point,” Mills said. “As a side note: this is a black father talking to his black adult son who plays in the NBA. It’s even more startling.”
More conversations will follow for Chief Mills, Achmed Beighle, Miami Township Administrator Jeff Wright and black and brown members of the Miami Township Community. Already they are taking steps to bring together supporters of Black Lives Matter with supporters of Blue Lives Matter in a group they are calling Black & Blue Lives Matter.
“We are just so proud to be part of this project,” said Mary Wolff, Miami Township Trustee. “I think it’s really demonstrating the commitment our community has to being part of the solution. We want to be sure we are being responsive to all of our residents regardless. We’re so fortunate to have had Chuck Mingo, to help us pilot something we hope will be life-changing for everyone in the area.”
Miami Township is doing what it takes to have a community working undivided. Wolff says light bulbs come on for people when they have the experience of seeing how someone else sees something. She hopes those kinds of experiences will spark good conversations. Chuck Mingo shared the story of one participant who came in thinking she was there to “get the white officers act together”. Instead, she found some of her own biases revealed to her.
“We’re talking about two groups who feel like they get judged based on their externals,” said Mingo. “They actually have a lot in common. That’s a starting point for commonality. I’m excited because Miami Township is doing something that could be seen and replicated all across this country.”
Achmed Beighle broke Undivided down to its simplest and most basic principle. Humanity.
“We are all human,” Beighle said.