In the wake of recent events in Ferguson and New York City, there has been a call for a new way of building relationships with the police. Leaders want to provide ways for people to have a voice, work across divides and establish equitable policing that is accountable to the community.
In our work over the past 25 years, Everyday Democracy has partnered with several diverse coalitions that have created large-scale dialogue and change processes to address community-police relations. Though there is much to be done in communities across our country, we know from experience that change is possible.
While recognizing the complexity of the issue, we want to share some strategies you can use to create positive change in community-police relations where you live:
1. Join with others who want to create change on this issue
Community change happens when we all work together. Join others already working toward change on this issue, or start a new group to organize community dialogue and action on community-police relations. Check out stories from South Bronx, N.Y., Stratford, Conn., and Lynchburg, Va., to see what’s possible when communities come together after a tragic incident involving a community member and police officer.
As you join with others, think about how you can:
- Include all voices in the community, especially those who have been marginalized or excluded. Think about the neighborhoods, racial/ethnic groups, people with various viewpoints, and people who work in specific sectors who may be affected by this issue; invite them to take part in community conversations and action steps. Community conversation and action work best when people from all parts of the community come together.
- Involve local officials and members of the police community. Having these groups take part in the conversation and action steps will begin to open a different form of communication between police and residents.
- Involve young people. The disconnect between police and the community is particularly wide between police and young people, especially youth of color. That’s why it’s essential for young people be involved from the beginning both in decision-making and implementation of change.
- Work with bridge-building organizations and leaders in your community. Find local organizations and people to partner with who have trusting relationships with both the police department and community members.
2. Create opportunities for genuine community engagement
Having a structured process for people, institutions, and government to work together can lead to real change. Our discussion guide, Protecting Communities, Serving the Public: Police and Residents Building Relationships to Work Together helps to create a space for community members and police to talk about trust, expectations, policing strategies and tactics. This allows residents to communicate their concerns and allows the police community to communicate how residents can play critical roles in effective partnership strategies.
3. Address the history of mistrust and disconnection between the community and the police
Tragic incidents don’t happen in a vacuum – there are hundreds of years of history and policies that have shaped our communities today. Our Facing Racism in a Diverse Nation discussion guide can help you have a conversation with your community to begin to dismantle stereotypes, understand the impact of structural racism, build mutual trust and respect, and develop strategies for changing institutions and policies.
4. Link dialogue to action and community change
With appropriate planning and organizing, the buy-in of local officials and the police community is possible. A dialogue initiative with community residents and police can become a springboard not just for building relationships, but also for transforming the practices and policies of our public institutions. We must address the systemic roots of the recurring tragedies in our communities and work toward inclusive, equitable communities where everyone has voice and opportunity.