Healing. Reconciliation. Accountability.
Those were just some of the words echoed during a Friday night conference held at Total Grace Baptist Church in Lexington to help bridge the gap between community and law enforcement, especially when it comes to interactions between police and citizens of color.
"It's (to) bring us together, community and law enforcement, to first, the point of agreeing that there's been some historical things that have been done to our community that put us in the position that we are in," said Pastor Michael Robinson. "After acknowledging that, then coming together to intentionally rebuild and repair the relationship between the community and the officers."
The conference was structured to offer a series of 15-minute informational sessions focused on incarceration and how not to be a part of the criminal justice system, including how to change it; resources for those who do become a part of the system in an effort to prove their innocence; and how a community can begin to improve for those who live in it and protect it.
The sessions were followed by a panel discussion with educators, activists, defense attorneys, judges and police officers. Panelists were given questions before the event. The questions focused on the criminal justice system, how laws are enforced, and the fear that communities of color have when interacting with law enforcement.
About 120 people attended the conference, including several police officers, city and state officials and leaders of faith-based communities.
Friday's conference came on the heels of a week that focused national attention on how officers and blacks interact with each other. Outrage and protests began after Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman who was pulled over for a traffic violation in Texas, was found hanged in her cell. This week, a University of Cincinnati police officer was charged with murder, accused of shooting and killing 43-year-old Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop July 19.
Daniel Whitley, a defense attorney, was tasked to speak about the The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, but he altered his speech and geared it toward the prevention of kids becoming involved in a life of crime. He suggested that new and innovative methods are needed to help kids become model citizens, and that officials should not be so quick to prosecute a kid who doesn't come from the best home environment or economic circumstances. Likewise, Whitley touted accountability and hope.
"I don't want to use Michelle Alexander's book as an excuse as to why we can't achieve great things, because we've always been a people who have always overcome obstacles, who've always achieved great things, who've always invented things, who've always went to school," Whitley said. "If we want to move forward as a community, let's stop looking for people to blame and ways to change."
During the panel discussion, Rawal Kazee, a defense attorney, challenged citizens to question how they conduct themselves in certain areas, but he also highlighted the discretion police officers exercise. University of Kentucky professor Kenneth Tyler questioned how police are changing the ways they are conducting themselves and policing communities of color. Tayna Fogle, a community activist, talked about her past and shared the fear many people have when they see police lights in their rearview mirrors.
Gerald Gibson, a violence intervention specialist, who works closely with the city, said he understands the community's perspective with police, but tries to use his positive experience with police to help others.
"Based on my work with the Lexington police department, I have developed great relationships and friendships with many police officers. Although I personally have absolutely no fear regarding encounters with police, I do recognize that some members of the community are uneasy at times when police are present. Therefore, through community outreach efforts, I teach those I work with how to have positive relationships with authority, particularly the police."
Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine talked about the law and how those in courtrooms must stay within the law books during prosecution.
Lexington police Chief Mark Barnard said he understands the fear people have when dealing with police officers, and he agreed with the other panelists that there needs to be a multifaceted approach to deal with policing issues. He touted the department's relationship with Eastern Kentucky University, whose professors challenge police officers to think about tactics and the individuals they are interacting with.
But it was helpful and enlightening to hear what others had to say, Barnard said.
"The best thing about these meetings, and I'll be very honest with you, is learning about other people and other views and the way people have perceptions of issues," Barnard said.
At the close of the conference, Robinson asked for the audience to hold their hands toward officers and city officials and led a prayer for police officers asking for protection, thanking them for their bravery and calling to serve. The officers held their hands toward the audience as Robinson prayed for protection, favor and strength to reconcile and help heal a community.
"We can work this out together. Community and law enforcement. Hand in hand," Robinson prayed.