Lately, there’s been a rush of conferences, meetings and celebrity-studded get-togethers to try and identify some common-sense steps to improve police-community relations in the USA. This country has essentially embarrassed itself internationally with the most recent slew of police shootings and brutality against unarmed Black Americans, and targeted assassinations of local police officers. Rap artists and civil rights leaders have been prominent in trying to talk about this issue.
Will they come up with any viable solutions? Probably not, since the issues are a lot deeper than most community relations gatherings will be willing to address. (Remember the police officer’s recent “I don’t know” answer to the question, “Why did you shoot me?” from the Black male professional in Miami who was lying on his back, unarmed, with his hands up, and still shot?) This does not mean there will not be a lot of well-meaning people at these gatherings. There will be, and some of them will be extremely insightful.
The root-canal strategy that will be necessary to make real progress, however, will more likely than not be a bridge too far for almost all of these groups. Good speech-making, and friendly feelings among the group members won’t be enough. As bad as things are presently in this relationship, they are not yet bad enough that positive action forward MUST be accomplished. One only gets a root-canal when no other less extreme option is available. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet with police-community relations in this country.
Additionally, such get-togethers will only break through with significant progress when the big three of all serious negotiations are included in the proceedings. These are mutual respect for and by all participants in the gathering (this does not mean agreement with everything said or presented), a willingness to listen to and consider the points of view of others (over-commitment to one’s own side being the only view that is right has deadly consequences), and a willingness to value other’s participation and outlook on the issues at hand and to seek out that participation.
To date, most police-community relations meetings—including virtually all of them in Los Angeles—have included mere toleration by police officials of others’ points of view, and a determination not to bend or give in on anything significant. The police do not know everything, and if they had all the right answers, this crisis of trust and confidence would not be vexing us all. Neither do community members possess all the answers and information. Most have never had to face the dangers police officers deal with daily. Mutual respect for different points of view—and a willingness to listen and learn—is a master requirement for anything worthwhile to come out of these meetings.
Otherwise, more gunplay from all sides and many more funerals will be the guaranteed result of empathy and passion, without real willingness to change.
The USA is better than this, there is no doubt. But being better, and performing worse does none of us any good. In athletic endeavors, that is usually a recipe for defeat and disaster. With her great talent, for example, Serena Williams has still occasionally lost to inferior players.
In the arena of negotiations for future progress, nobody’s point of view is the only correct way forward. Since we are all better than this, it is past time for us to show that we are better, not just talk and sign about it. Greatness is not what greatness says, it is and always has been what greatness does.
More power and mutual respect to us all. The help we need is in us.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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