When I looked at the problem between blacks, browns, homeless, poor whites, and police across our great nation, I said to myself that when it comes to dealing with our police departments, thanks to recent events, we have a problem. But at the same time, I thought, there must be a solution.
As pastor of what used to be an all-black congregational church that has opened up its doors to all walks of life, I have heard about and experienced driving while black, along with talking to those driving while brown. Also I have heard of similar problems from our young whites who are homeless or have appeared to be homeless.
Yet over the years, there has been a fast-growing fear in the hearts of blacks, poor whites, browns, and homeless people. The fear comes through a preconceived notion that an approach by a police officer will lead to incarceration or bodily harm. But it runs deeper than our police. At sometime, every day, people clutch their purses or check their wallets when blacks and browns walk by, and so on. Individuals are misunderstood, and individuals have fears due to predetermined concepts that have driven a wedge between all sides of the equation.
The fear stems out of people seeing the actions of our police departments across the nation that have led to the killing of young men, women, and children, and not having reprisals within our court systems. Blacks, browns, homeless, and poor whites feel there is no recourse for violations of their civil rights. This vision comes from various police actions that appear to have erroneous pull-overs, unsubstantiated approaches, and attitudes that are forceful in nature.
Yet, on the other hand, we do have people in these groups who are committing crimes and working different angles to get over on society. The ironic part is that these actions of crime are not limited to men; now we have women and children doing the same thing as well. With this type of increase of crime we are seeing, I can understand why our police are on edge.
Yes, being a police officer is a dangerous job, and I do understand that there are times when force is needed. Nevertheless, when police put on their badge and go off to work, in most cases they are saving lives and don’t have to use their guns.
So the question remains, how do our officers get the point across that their main duty is to protect and serve without putting fear in the hearts of people of color and the homeless? And how can we as citizens understand the fear that is carried in our officers’ minds when crime is involved?
What can we, as a community, do to make this better? After all, there are some great police officers. I also wonder what can change the minds of our police officers to encourage them not to kill someone? Part of the answer could be knowing that people should have their day in court with a judge and jury. If someone has a gun, the use of force is understandable; however, if there is no gun involved, how do we change hearts?
I began to ask questions and have meetings with our community and to talk to people in other cities. I found that the same fear that I had was in the hearts of people in all different walks of life all across the country. However, when I ask my white older brothers and sisters what they thought of the police, most of them answer, “The police are here to protect and serve.” Yet there was no fear in their hearts at all.
I thought the only way to stop a thing is to understand a thing. So the only way to stop the fear is for both sides to come together — to understand what is in the hearts and minds of those feeling victimized and also the same with our officers in blue. However, we must do this without preconceived stereotyping and pre-judgment. Our police departments must change their perception about us. Along with us changing our perceptions about the police.
So I called the Chief of Police, Cam Sanchez, here in Santa Barbara. I asked him, could we have a meeting with the public to see how we can change the outlook on our police department? So that we would not have the same problems we have seen in other cities.
Perception is the key. Can we get our officers to understand that we love this great country just as much as they do? And that they don’t have to have a superior attitude when they wear their badge. Along with getting our blacks, browns, poor whites, and homeless to see the fear in the officer, also. Then we just might see people who will not feel threatened because of preconceived ideas.
Our hope is to come up with a joint committee that could work together and solve these issues of fear. However, this only happens when we focus on helping, serving, and having conversations with each other. Through these conversations, we will be able to have a mutual respect for one another. Then and only then, our blacks, browns, poor whites, homeless, and police would not be misunderstood any longer.
This is why it is important to have good dialog and even go as far as breaking bread together, as was suggested by Chief Sanchez. We here at God’s Open Door Second Baptist Church have already had one meeting with our Deputy Police Chief Frank Mannix, Police Chaplain Charles Reed, Bishop Broderick Huggins, the community, and myself that was very successful. And we are looking forward to our next meeting.
At this time we are anticipating having another positive meeting with Chief Sanchez, Sheriff Bill Brown of Santa Barbara County, Chief of Police Dustin Olson of UCSB, and a high-ranking CHP officer.
What we are asking of them is to have a dialog on how we can prevent what we have seen in different parts of the country from happing here in Santa Barbara. Our questions is, what has each department done to have a more comprehensive training program to help us to work together? This meeting will be held in late February.
Wallace K. Shepherd Jr., PhD, is pastor of God’s Open Door Second Baptist Church in Santa Barbara.