Trinity Episcopal Church-on-the-Green in New Haven, Connecticut is hosting a Lenten series titled “Trauma and Grace.” This past Sunday, the featured speaker was Anthony Campbell, soon to retire as the chief of the New Haven Police Department. Campbell urged his listeners to remember that “Where there is trauma, there is the opportunity for grace to flow.” He also shared a story about a serious injury he had suffered some 13 years prior:
The police chief recalled a severe injury he sustained 13 years ago, when a young Bridgeport man ran him over with a car on the street as part of a gang initiation. It looked like Campbell’s law-enforcement career would be over as a result of his grievous injuries — and the young driver was expected to get 20 years in jail.
Campbell requested that the young man get a more lenient sentence — the judge complied with his request and cut the sentence in half — and Campbell eventually recovered and worked again as a police officer. He credited friends and supporters, and his Bible study group, for their help.
Turning to the present, Campbell said each person listening listening to him in the pews had “a grace which lives in each of us.” The police commander said there would come a time for all of them when that kindness could make a big difference.
Campbell is a 2009 graduate of Yale Divinity School, which recently featured an effort he undertook to beat guns into plowshares following the shooting death of a 14-year-old New Haven resident.
In July 2017, the senseless death of a 14-year-old [boy namedTarik Keys] rocked the New Haven community. For Campbell, it was also the catalyst for a public ritual that continues to this day and has gone a long way toward the healing of emotional and spiritual wounds.
… In its annual gun buyback, the New Haven police department collected 138 guns, including rifles and assault weapons. In exchange for surrendering a gun, citizens received a gift card. No personal information was required of them.
The chief wanted this buyback to be dedicated to Tarik. He also knew that the Newhallville neighborhood where Tarik lived was home to many community gardens.
An idea slowly dawned: What if the community could somehow turn those instruments of death into gardening tools, literally “beating swords into plowshares”?
Through the Newtown Foundation, Campbell learned about Raw Tools a nonprofit started in 2012 by Mike Martin, a Mennonite blacksmith from Colorado.
The mission of Raw Tools is simple: to convert modern-day “swords”—guns—into farm tools.
Since that time, the New Haven community has worked together to make this happen in the Elm City. The police department collects and houses the weapons, and Yale-New Haven Hospital provides the gift cards.
But it was the Department of Corrections that came forward and added the final piece to this symbolic ritual of healing.
Now, on any given morning, you can see soon-to-be released inmates from the New Haven Correctional Center standing outside police headquarters, literally beating swords into plowshares.
They’re inserting pieces of handguns, rifles, and assault weapons into a red-hot forge, hammering them on an anvil atop a tree stump, and fashioning them into spades, hoes, and other farm tools.
A video of Campbell’s talk at Trinity Church can be found here.