Police and Black Men Project Holds First Public Session at NPPF

Kristian Evans, Senior News Editor

After over a year of meetings, narrative defining and tense dialogue, the Police and Black Man Project held its first public panel at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum at Augsburg. Moderator Bill Doherty, a member of the Better Angels organization and University of Minnesota professor, discussed some of the dialogue methods used in the workshop involving African-American men from Minneapolis and officers in the Minneapolis Police Department.

   The group, who began meeting every other week for a year in January of 2017 searched for ways to repair a relationship that has largely been seen as broken. The group discussed their process and topics such as bias, prejudice and the history of systematic racism’s influence on the criminal justice system in front of an audience and then responded to questions from those in attendance.

    A focus for the panel was the need to repair the relationship that has been shattered between the police department and minority communities. Guy Bowling, a community activist, expressed “outrage fatigue” over high-profile police shootings in Minneapolis that failed in the eyes of activists to hold police accountable for the deaths of unarmed citizens. The need to contribute to a solution was part of the reason he and others joined the panel. Officer Dave O’Connor, who patrols the fourth precinct in north Minneapolis, remembers asking, “Who are we talking to in order to stop this from happening?” after the death of Philando Castile and feeling frustrated at the lack of changes being made to prevent another shooting.

    Both community members and the police officers in the panel agreed that adding more police would not equate to more safety. This, however, was one of only a few areas in the room agreed upon when first meeting. The panelists did discuss how disagreements between the two groups added to tension of their meetings, which sometimes took place as news stories about police shootings were unfolding. While moments of conflict where discussed, the group also voiced some areas of agreement that helped establish a common goal. “We need to humanize one another,” said Damion Winfield in response to a question about the necessity of the project.

    Police Commander Charlie Adams, the only African-American officer present, discussed how policy can shape certain parts of improving relations with police. He cited the need for a greater amount of affordable housing to help low income residences find security and allow for more police officers to live in the areas that they patrol: a scenario few MPD officers find themselves in. He also noted that was an area requiring input from both the community and law enforcement.

    The group identified problems with the two dominant narratives surrounding law enforcement in Minneapolis and the United States: police accountability and personal responsibility. A narrative of police accountability, often used by those who fault police in the issue, failed to address the individual’s role in making a community safe, the group’s discussions asserted. While a personal responsibility narrative, often pushed by those who justify police actions, fails to address the larger systemic problems active within individuals and law enforcement systems. The group decided that a narrative that promoted the advantages of being partners in community safety would be most beneficial to movement in the process.

     While all panelists acknowledged the immense challenge that lies in front of them, their goal “to forge connections between police officers and African-American men that can lead to better partnerships for community safety and law enforcement” remains the beginning part of a massive undertaking that all in the room recognized requires constant work to improve and maintain.

This article first appeared in the Friday, September 21 edition of The Echo.

Photo taken by Winston Heckt.