Group Opens Dialogue Between Community and Police
By Dianne Anderson
Ongoing roundtables in Anaheim are talking about all the big questions of recent decades, such as why Black people are profiled twice as much as whites, along with other eye-openers using simulators to glimpse why police shoot so quickly.
One thing Joan Powell learned at a meeting was that officers said they want to go home to their families like everyone else. That is reasonable, but she questioned why the police always start shooting all at once.
“So many shoot at one time. He said they [aren’t taking time] to say officer #1 are you going to shoot? Officer #2 are you going to shoot? They don’t shoot to maim, they shoot to kill,” said Powell, who is part of the Bridge Task Force.
On both sides, questions are popping up for what Powell hopes will be the start of humanizing policies around race-based profiling.
She, Cathy Steele Woodard and other community activists started The Bridge – A Listening Project – A BLM Task Force, modeled after a project in Charleston South Carolina, the place where white supremacist Dylann Roof walked into a Black church and killed nine elders during Bible study. After his arrest on the way to the station, police bought him a cheeseburger because he said he was hungry.
Locally, the NCNW wanted to create a platform to connect Anaheim African American residents with law enforcement. Powell said Chief Jorge Cisneros has been supportive.
Racial profiling is still a big concern, and their last session was on traffic stops. Given the climate around the murder of George Floyd, and continued officer-involved shootings, it’s never an easy conversation.
But everyone gets a chance to speak with respect and without condemnation, and there are guidelines. She facilitated the first session on racial profiling, which included police input.
“When we look at police officers, we look at them a certain way, and police officers look at African Americans a certain way. It came out in conversation, especially that they’re shooting to kill us,” said Powell, also President of NCNW, Orange County Section.
Policy and procedural change is the end goal. The department says they adhere to vehicle code for traffic stops, but they also expressed they can stop anybody any time and always find a reason, like tinted windows. One conversation was that more Black officers are needed, but police say there are hardly any Black applicants.
Black participants are invited to come out and the meetings are confidential. It’s not necessary to be a resident, but she said they must be connected to the city in some way, through work or family. One of their task force members is a local Black officer.
“He has given us information that the Anaheim police department wants to engage more with the African American community. Come to find out there are only 11 African American police officers out of 400,” she said.
Teresa Weissman, also an NCNW charter member, feels the project is making headway in bringing hard topics to the surface.
Coming up, their next session is on Use of Force
“People are hearing the truth of the matter, the truth of anxiety and frustration as a woman, that’s one of the things we spoke about with traffic stops and profiling. That’s one of the questions that I have,” said Weissman.
Input will be gleaned from meetings and presented to decision makers regarding budget allocations. The group is not advocating defunding the police. She said Anaheim sends out mental health professionals with officers on call, but she wants to make sure that the procedure continues.
Keeping department statistics front and center is important, such as the 2017 ACLU race profiling report on the Anaheim Police Department.
She also is encouraged that Chief Cisneros has implemented policies that NCNW supports, specifically in advocating for more community service training for officers.
Until he came on board, officers were only getting 100 hours of community service training within a 12 month span, and he has since mandated 300 hours. The department now monitors officers to see if they are showing signs of burnout, or spiraling out of control.
“I don’t know the actual procedure to take them [the officers] off the street, but that’s coming up,” she said.
Regarding recruiting more Black cops, she feels policy change should be priority. Often, officers, whether Black, Hispanic or female, has been traditionally true to blue.
For now, listening to the Black community is the starting point. She feels the face to face with the officers will help change outcomes down the line.
“Hispanics can’t speak for the African American community, Asian Americans can’t speak for the African American community, and why do we feel in Orange County that we have a target on our back all the time?” she said.
For more information on meeting times and location, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
To see the ACLU 2017 Anaheim Police Use of Force https://www.aclusocal.org/en/publications/anaheim-police-department-use-force-report-2017