The police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, woke a sleeping giant.
Across the country, people are calling for major changes in the way law enforcement interacts with minorities — a movement that's been further fueled by the police strangulation death of Eric Garner and the police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Protests have taken place countrywide, from NBA courts to Colorado Springs.
It was with that in mind that two local moms decided it was time that law enforcement personnel and concerned locals sit down for a chat. Sherrie Gibson has a bachelor's degree in political science, and Tiko Hardy is a licensed social worker for the state of Colorado, and also holds a PsyD, with a specialization in criminology and justice studies. Hardy says the two felt that with their backgrounds they could help facilitate a conversation that would be proactive.
"What we want to do is have a dialogue before something happens," Hardy says.
"A Community Dialogue on the Legacy of Ferguson" will take place at Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave., on Dec. 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. It's free and open to the public. The event will start with a panel discussion. Currently, the panel includes a local CEO, a clergy member, and representatives from the Colorado Springs Police Department, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, the Fountain Police Department, the Pikes Peak Restorative Justice Council, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A local business owner, a student and a local professional are also being asked to join the panel.
Hardy says that most people don't know people in law enforcement and that breeds distrust. But if someone, for instance, knows the sheriff, she says, they're more likely to give his deputy the benefit of the doubt.
Incoming El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, who will be on the panel, says he agrees. In fact, he says the Fountain Police Department, for which he currently works, has been proactive about having community meetings, speaking at churches, and organizing community projects like clean-ups. Those efforts have helped form bonds in the community, he says. And that's important, he says, because "I think there's a general mistrust of law enforcement nationwide."
Cops, he says, "Have got to get out and be involved in the community. They have to stop and buy lemonade from lemonade stands, just to be differently involved in the community."
Elder says he also thinks it's important that minorities be represented in patrol staffs. He says Fountain has worked very hard to develop a diverse workforce. The Sheriff's Office also has diversity, he says, but he thinks more minorities work in detentions than patrol, so the community may not see that.
"We need to work on that," Elder says.