Police-Community Relations: Let us break bread together

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I’m not going to “put in my two cents” on the events unfolding in Ferguson, New York, or the rest of the nation.  That’s being done elsewhere plentifully and with worlds more perspective than I can offer. Truthfully, if I have to hear one more white male’s opinion on how people of color ought to be processing their American experience, I might have to tune out of media and pick up a book.  And who wants that?

No- I’ve just been playing with a relatively simple idea in my head that really doesn’t need a whole “blog post,” but I wanted to give it more background and description than I’m able to in a Facebook post.  It has probably been done before and maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t, but I’m kind of ignorant on the subject, and this is already way too much preamble so here goes.

One problem America’s police forces are having is their lack of connection to the communities they serve (They also have waaaaay too much free equipment and vehicles from the wars, but that’s a different topic for another day). In too many communities, police are seen as outside agitators, and perhaps to them, the community is merely a hunting ground to find and capture the criminal element. We need more policemen who know the community, have relationships with the people, and share the same goals as the citizens they serve. We respect the badge, and we want respect from the men who wear it. This has been well established as a concern on both sides, but there seems to be a lot of confusion these days as to how to make that happen.

One of my biggest takeaways from the Educational Leadership program at the University of Mississippi was that there is not and never will be a proven and published silver bullet program to fix America’s schools.  There is no scientifically researched “way” or set of steps that works every single time. Sure, there are tools and research-backed systems you want to get up and running- patterns you typically see in successful, prospering schools, but every school is unique. Every school will have a unique story, because every school has unique students, teachers, staff members, and parents.  We see this in statistical anomalies known as “90 90 90 schools.”  These are schools with 90% minority students, 90% eligibility for free and reduced lunch, and 90% success rate on state tests. They’re totally the envy of the educational leadership world, but the reason they don’t exist everywhere is because each school’s solution is different.

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 Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL, one such success story.

One aspect we saw again and again, though, which seemed to be incredibly crucial to the success of these schools, was the school’s relationship with the community itself. And principals who turned schools around, who established amazing, vibrant, and successful schools in areas where no one expected them, fought whatever battles they had to fight to get the community into the school, and make them part of the process.  Many schools hosted pot lucks, many had community technology fairs, but the one thing they all had in common was that they did not allow for an “us vs. them” scenario to fester. If the institution and the community it serves are in competition with each other, neither will prosper from it.

So what does this mean for our relationships with our local police?  What if we started seeing more neighborhood cookouts?  What if the leadership of the neighborhood and the police department said “let’s have a barbecue together, one Saturday a month” and the off duty beat cops who patrolled the streets came in uniform to build relationships with everybody?  What if we could get cops to judge science fair projects? What if we sent the police department our community newsletters, and they sent us theirs? You get the idea. Maybe we can make strides to fix this by organizing right where we live.

I’m not saying we don’t need national attention on this; we do.  I’m not satisfied with the occasional 90-90-90 school, because great schools shouldn’t be occasionally found.  We won’t be satisfied with being the rare “good news” police-community relationship story, because we shouldn’t stop until the root causes are fixed nationwide. Yes, we desperately need big time leadership, and I’m not talking about politicians.  Quite frankly I think America desperately needs the next MLK.  But that’s a different post.  Point being: We need a national movement, yes.

But if this problem is really going to be addressed where we live, and in the short term, it’s got to be addressed on the ground.  We’re going to have to fight to change relationships where we are.  We need grassroots activism on this. Something tells me the temporary solution for each community might be unique, just as each successful school had its own path, based on the talents and resources of its people.

So, what do you think?  Is that silly?  Been done before?  Didn’t work?  Is there a nugget of truth and practicality in there?  Give me feedback!

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