Many dark-skinned hands on a brightly colored background. Some hold individual signs that bear single words. Together they read "OUR BLACK LIVES MATTER"
A mural on 14th Street NW in 2020. Artist website: www.chrispyrate.com

As the trial over George Floyd’s traumatic murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer last year wears on, another young man, 20-year old Daunte Wright, was killed on April 11 by another officer from the same police department on Sunday. I think it’s critical in these times that we examine how police officers can be an asset to their communities if they put in the time to know and value the lives of every member of those communities enough to build relationships with them…

All lives matter and it’s time to recognize that truth, because this country is hurting and we cannot afford a civil war. The George Floyd incident that led to a murder, and all the recent shootings, have set off worldwide peaceful demonstrations in places like Australia, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, just to name a few. Police reforms are requested all over.

This is the time for America to show real leadership. The whole world is looking to us. I urge you to get involved to create real change in our police departments.

I can remember my first ride in a police car, I was about four or five years young. My mother, sister, and myself were in a shopping area that we frequented to buy all types of things. Sometimes my mother would buy me these toys, Cowboys and Indians. I ran over to where they were displayed and stood there watching and dreaming. Somehow, I got separated. I was standing in dismay, wondering where my mother and sister were. A very nice lady asked me if I was lost. I told her that I was looking for my mother. She took my hand and we walked until we saw a policeman. Then he walked us to the precinct.

We went to the police station and the officer told the desk sergeant about the situation.

Once inside, a very nice officer was assigned to me. The officer asked me some questions, but I couldn’t answer them. So the officer-in-charge suggested to put me in the squad car and see if I could recognize my mother.

This was all new to me and I found it to be exciting.

A few minutes later, the police officer had me perched in the front seat of the squad car. We left the precinct and rode around. A few minutes later, I saw my mother and sister standing on the street. With a great ball of excitement, I let the officer know by pointing at them. Once the officer confirmed that we were family, he allowed us to reunite.

Another time, many years ago when I first moved here in the 70s, there was a beat cop named Officer Gray. He was assigned to the Georgetown area. One Sunday morning, he walked up and introduced himself to me with the warmest smile. I was taken aback because I had never had an experience like this before. 

I immediately gave him my attention. He said he was the beat officer assigned to the area and that if I ever needed his assistance to let him know. He asked me my name and informed me that the police station was on Volta St.

To this day, I remember his name and his kind face. He was a gentle man with gray hair who spoke softly, with a little authority but not overbearing. He was grandfatherly.

One reason that we are experiencing so much conflict in the police departments across this country is the police are alienated from the people.

Police officers who walked the beat, like this man I still remember from 40 years ago, were connected with the community. Those officers talked to the people in the businesses and knew the neighborhood residents. 

We have to communicate with our city representatives. We have to have our police get out of those police cars and walk the beat. Once the police know the people in the community, they won’t be so fast to shoot. Once police officers and community members build enough trust in each other again, we can come to peaceful solutions together.

This is especially needed to stop the over-policing of people with mental illnesses. If you are a part of the community, and get to know the people, you know when someone is acting abnormally versus when they are dealing with an ongoing medical condition. If you don’t know the people, you could overreact and respond inappropriately.

The extremely high cost of housing in this area leaves many people with mental illness no alternatives but to go to the street and be homeless. And if that happens, that person needs psychological and economic assistance, not a traumatic interaction with authority.

As tax-paying citizens it’s time to get city officials to legislate increased funding to help get people into housing and to provide adequate care for anyone with mental illness.

To be continued.