Some communities are blessed with proactive citizens striving to unite residents, law enforcement and society in general to bridge the racial gap and deter discrimination. Reducing fear and ignorance through communication and building positive relationships are vital to unity. America needs to change the narrative on race relations to embrace reconciliation.
Manatee Bridging the Gap, a 2-year-old initiative of the Manatee NAACP, is one effort. The county’s law enforcement agencies work to build trust and forge connections through community outreach and face-to-face interaction. Other public and private organizations, including schools and colleges, contribute in a variety of ways toward brotherhood and harmony. Simple gestures can also span the racial divide, like the new Smile and Wave Club born at Palmetto’s St. Andrews African Methodist Episcopal Church.
In the aftermath of the police shooting deaths of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota and the slayings of five Dallas police officers by a black sniper during a peaceful protest, this country is reeling in grief and outrage. Efforts like Bridging the Gap are vital to alleviating the animosity. The organization came into being after the officer shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014 and other deadly episodes.
76Percent of blacks who see trouble with the justice system regarding law enforcement and race
Bridging the Gap’s community forums with the leaders of Manatee County law enforcement agencies and monthly meetings with those officials and community leaders do indeed help bridge the racial divide. The immediate past president of the county’s NAACP branch, Susie Copeland, outlines the group’s efforts in her Letter to the Editor today. The group’s mission faces high hurdles.
The stark split in the views of blacks and whites over policing and race in this country shows that bridge building will be a great challenge, but certainly one that must be undertaken. A McClatchy-Marist poll a few months after Ferguson found that 76 percent of blacks see trouble with the justice system regarding law enforcement and race. Only 33 percent of whites believe that. The survey also determined that only 22 percent of blacks had great confidence in officers to win the trust of the citizens they serve. That compares with more than half of whites expressing that faith.
This national picture may be gloomy, but one of Copeland’s statements bears repeating as a positive indicator of trust in police locally: “We applaud and support our local law enforcement officials in Manatee County and the work they do in protecting and serving our communities. Without law enforcement, our communities will surely fall into ruins.”
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office very proactive in engaging minority leaders, pastors and neighborhoods.
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office works side-by-side with not only Bridging the Gap but with Strength in Action, primarily comprised of minority leaders and pastors. The MCSO does much more on race relations. The department’s Community Oriented Policing deputies engage neighborhoods around the county, building community partnerships to create unity in problem solving and public safety. Those officers serve the same neighborhood for a year and get out of their cars so residents and the deputies can get to know one another on a more personal level. Black deputies serve black neighborhoods in order to foster relationships, trust and respect.
Plus, school resource deputies constantly work on relations with young people, thus building mutual respect and trust. When school vacations occur, many of the resource deputies shift their attention to low-income areas.
On minority relations, “we have to work hard every day,” Sheriff Brad Steube told us.
The Palmetto church’s Smile and Wave Club is about exactly that, extending a friendly hand and face. St. Andrews, one of Manatee County’s many historically black churches, announced Sunday that parishioners and others should forget color and demonstrate their goodwill and kindness to strangers with a smile and a wave with hopes of alleviating fear, hatred and bias. Parishioners hope to inspire a return smile and wave — a good starting point in building brotherhood.
The Manatee School School District seats a Cultural Competence Committee. The mission: improving student achievement through the acknowledgment and acceptance of cultural differences. Real change is hard work, but should be easier by teaching youth the value of brotherhood and tolerance.
These are all commendable efforts designed to recast a centuries-old narrative resistant to change. And these hold promise for the future, hopefully not the distant future.