LifeAid and Rise Host Community Town Hall on Police-Community Relations
A nondescript building in Compton, California was host to a historic event this afternoon. LifeAid, a veteran’s and first responders retreat group, and Rise (find background) conducted a sit-down, town hall with members of local police agencies, civilian community leaders, 25 students from LA area schools, and veterans. The group began discussing the important issues facing policing and law enforcement in general. Randy Sutton, a founder of LENN and the National Director of The Wounded Blue was on the guest panel, while I, the author, was in personal attendance.
The initial activity included ranking who we would want to be in three (3) segments, one being race, the others occupation, and age. Each evolved per round with further information about the subjects we were asked to rank. Ultimately, the goal is to uncover internal biases. Overall, the presentation was well received and opened communication lines for further discussion.
Panel members were asked if the current state of law enforcement was transforming into a glass empty or glass full situation in relation to current policing tactics. While several members felt it was half empty, most believe it was half full and conforming to current relations. Those that did not agree were asked to explain further. A consensus was reached among them that there is still a feeling of racial inequality, biased police practices, and bullying tactics being used in an alpha male dominant career field.
Army Sgt Major Dave Clark (ret) gave a page from his playbook for how he was able to form a police force in a country that hated the United States during wartime, Afghanistan. A focus on leadership was used for best practice principles to eliminate corruption from the police force that was in place. Spotlighting terrorist or gang-run areas were focused upon with their most well-received officers, showing a commitment and caring while uprooting the bad seeds. He advised that over forty years of war made the trust factor difficult but not insurmountable.
A community advocate named Dax alleged that “law enforcement is a selfish job, with police officers getting off time and time again for crimes they commit, we see denial from the police departments” He believes that accountability is necessary. Sheriff Villanueva countered by saying, “My goal is for everyone to live, everyone to survive, and everyone to prosper.” He pointed to the level of violence dictating the level of policing. ” The question is, how can we make a contact between an officer and a young black man a pleasant one?”
Dax made a bold statement, ” Once police realize we are on the same side and hate the crime as much as you all do. We can stop being oppressed by them (gangs) and by police.” Sheriff Villanueva agreed with, as he has stated higher crime rates dictate higher police presence. However, other panelists still feel that bad actors within law enforcement are being under-punished.
Pastor Cedric Nelms, a local church leader, was asked how the faith-based community can be tasked to assist the mission. He cited zoning issues from gentrification eras. His belief is that this resulted in systemic issues. These call for a dual responsibility to call out both internal system issues, and outside system issues, both of which he believes are systematically flawed. He also believes fundamentally that law enforcement is the wrong type of response for domestic and mental health calls. Sheriff Villanueva advised that the taxpayers are not going to pay for counselors to respond to scenes, especially where violence may be present.
A sheriff’s board representative on the panel then asked the church leaders to rise up and speak. Stating “The loudmouths in the community are the ones causing the unrest, these police hate the bad apples more than you do. These streets aren’t pretty. We run toward the bullets. We will die for people we don’t know. We will walk in your shoes to see how you see us.”
Sheriff Villanueva closed by relaying ” We’re not the same police agency from the riots of the 60’s. Not one person has died here in 2020 from these riots. There is progress. Can we do better? Yes! We have to push the community to do so also. A solution can be found.”
The sheriff thanked members for coming and asked them to continue the discussion in a non-political platform like the Rise town hall event.