GPA Event Synopsis: Improving Community Police Relationships in the Wake of Post-Ferguson
Monday, March 2, 2015
Posted by: Jen Riley
On February 17th, 2015 GPA Council on Diversity partnered with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta to bring the Metro-Atlanta and surrounding communities a panel on bettering Community/Police relationships. Topics covered during the panel included profiling (racial/gender/religious), implicit biases within the police department and community, and police procedures at play when interacting with fellow members of our society. The panel also addressed questions of corruption, officer training, community resources available to strengthen the relationship among law enforcement and the citizens (ride alongs with your local agency, coffee with cops, neighborhood watch guest speakers, etc.), and new police initiatives such as adding recording devices to officer uniforms.
The largest take-away from this diverse gathering of non-profit professionals, students, educators, psychologists, religious leaders and members, civil servants, and many, many others was for us to first and foremost recognize that we are all just people. Our perception, more often than not, crafts our reality so it is important to prepare ourselves to be proactive rather than reactive especially in the midst of tragedy.
“The law cannot save us. Even though we live in a democracy with laws that protect us from being abused by our government, we still have 92 times more police killings in our country than they do in Communist China, where citizens have no legal protection from a totalitarian government. It may be just be that we live in a more violent society, which means that we must attack the social causes of all violence – and not just police violence -- rather than just trying to pass and enforce laws against it.”
-Craig Jones, Civil Rights Attorney
Events such as Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Ferguson can all be compared to the childhood game, “Telephone”. The message continuously changes as it is passed from person to person. As Tim Sharples, Smyrna Police Department, said, “If two people are looking at the same thing, they will still see two different experiences. What can citizens and officers both do to decrease the tension? Mutual courtesy and mutual respect can help to reduce escalating situations.” The panelists encouraged attendees to search for the truth themselves, rather than rally behind a solitary perspective provided in the media, whether it is the news or Facebook. Consumer power is not just limited to products and services of brands, it extends here as well. The panel representatives also took responsibility in saying as officers of the law and professionals in the community, it is their duty to communicate more and be proactively responsive. It is important to begin making statements and address issues before situations- large or small- grow to be PR disasters.
“Mutual respect should not be limited to police officers, recognize that there is a person behind the uniform. Also, continue to attend forums like this that help tear down the walls of communication and understanding,” said Major Byron Martin, Atlanta Police Department
Although topics such as racial (and other) biases, police brutality and similar issues facing our society currently, could have escalated into a very uncomfortable environment for both the panelists and the audience, the atmosphere was full of solution-seeking conversation.