By Jackie Blalock Robinson
If it is to be, it’s up to me! This is the message that nearly 100 African-American women heard when they came together with several black officers of the Dallas Police Department on Saturday, April 22 at the “Where Do We Go From Here?” event to discuss issues involving African-American women and the police. The attendees discussed the realities of negative encounters with the police and how to start healing and find solutions.
The event, held at the Black Police Officers Building in Dallas, was facilitated by Dr. Sheron C. Patterson, Communication Officer, The United Methodists of North Texas. Dr. Patterson, the daughter of a Charlotte, North Carolina police office, was passionate about strengthening the relationship between police and the African-American community. She remembers the time as a youth when police officers were heroes.
“Black police were a gift to the black community. They were adored; they were loved; they were needed,” said Dr. Patterson.
However, in recent years, and the easy accessibility of cameras on cell phones, videos have surfaced showing negative and abusive encounters between police and African-American women. First, last summer a teenage African-American girl was tackled by a white policeman in McKinney. Then, last month an African-American mother and daughter in Ft. Worth were thrown to the ground by a white policeman during a police call. In 2015, Sandra Bland, an African-American woman traveling in South Texas was confronted and then arrested by a white policeman. She was found dead later in her jail cell of an alleged apparent suicide.
So how did we get to the point? Dallas Police Department’s (DPD), Major Latoya Porter, shared insights into a little known historical fact about Slave Patrols. According to Maj. Porter, these patrols terrorized black people to get them to not run away from plantations or to get them to be ‘good’ slaves. These patrols lasted about 173 years. This history transcends where we are today. But terms like ‘bad attitudes, de-escalate, disrespect, deep-seated fears’ that stir up many more conversations about African-American women and the police.
“What you saw (in Ft. Worth) encourages other police officers to do the same thing in every other city around the nation,” said Dallas Police Deputy Chief Catrina Shead. “That lady was a mother trying to stand up for her son. It hurt my heart to see a woman treated that way.” Shead added police can de-escalate a situation with improved communication skills.
“We do have de-escalation training along with understanding biases and cultural diversity. But you’re always going to have individuals who do what they want to do; you’re going to have bad apples. Yes, they (policemen) attend the training; they’re paying attention, but they are still could do the absolute wrong thing. It is unfortunate, but no class can change some biases.”
Once the concerns were discussed, the two groups united to look ahead to the future. All attendees said this event was a good start in making change. “We need to build community with the police,” said Porter.
“DPD’s Community Engagement manager, Joli Robinson, is really focused on being involved in the community,” Robinson said she has a passion for working with the community and shared some of the tactics she uses. “To build community with the police, DPD brings out vendors to provide free services and information for the community,” Robinson said. “We offer free ‘Coffee with Cops’ regularly as a way to meet police in a non-emergency setting throughout the year to get to know all of the officers from my district. It also gives the police officers an opportunity to meet the people that they are serving. When the people know the officers, they can call them and feel at ease.”
Dr. Lawana Gladney, a local psychologist, also known as the Mind Doctor”, offered the community, and the police, ways to heal hurts and some practical solutions.
“If you can refocus your anger in another way, you can get so much more done,” said Gladney. “Embrace this, and understand that life is not fair. People are not fair, and they will never be fair. People will mistreat, misuse, and abuse you. They did that to Jesus, why do we think we’re any more special? He was mistreated because of the perceptions people had about him, his ethnicity, and the side that he stood on. So all of this is an example for us to keep the proper perspective on all of this.”
According to Robinson, it takes everybody working together to make changes. “How many people participate in your community crime watch or your children’s PTA?” Robinson asked the audience. “That’s where the involvement starts. A lot of times we just want to wait until a problem hits home for us before we really want to get involved.
Dr. Gladney also shared that pent up stress can cause diseases. “You can’t control people. We always stress about things we can’t control. You can only control yourself,” said Gladney. “So I teach people how to manage their emotions. Emotions are not stable. We have to start focusing on the “logic’ side of the brain. This is where things get done.”
“Anger does serve a purpose because it really gets people on a course once they get over the anger. But make sure it is productive anger. Make sure that you put that energy where it needs to be,” said Gladney. “Then you are empowered. Your healing starts to come through what you do for other people. When you step outside of yourself and understand that so many people are in the same boat as you are, you begin to gain the power. “ According to Gladney, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers was started by a woman who lost her child to a drunk driver. “She could have just sat around, been angry, and cried all the time. But she channeled her anger and said ‘this is not happening again’,” said Gladney.
Dr. Gladney offered this challenge to the attendees: Commit to doing things differently. Be part of the solution and not part of the problem. When you hear people say something negative, let them spend five minutes on their anger, then say “what are you going to do about it?” Put the ball back in their court. This is going to start to bridge the gap that we need so badly in the healing of this whole process.”