The tension in our nation between the black community and the police is palpable. It feels like one bad incident and cities will burn … again. Recently Elizabeth (Liz) Smith, a member of the Eureka Chapter of the NAACP and Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Redwoods, had a cup of coffee with me to discuss issues of race, policing and justice. Both of us felt we should lead a discussion locally.
In late August, Liz and I assembled a small group of police officers and people of color. We held a private function where we broke bread, threw the cards on the table and had open, honest and sincere dialogue. (Thank you Redwood Capital Bank and the Ingomar Club.) The level of openness at this initial meeting is debatable, but I saw a group of smart, dedicated professional people (community and police) who were direct, honest and open about their perceptions and experience. Each person listened intently to one another seeking to understand. The discussion was enlightening, powerful and humbling.
If we stop here we have failed. We must push on to a place where all people are respected and feel safe. A place where we reach toward the high ideals of the reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
Over the upcoming year, the NAACP and EPD will host a broader community meeting to discuss race, policing and justice. Eureka, we can show the world how love works. We can meet and respectfully discuss tough topics, listen to each other and create a path forward, together. A path not determined by political party, but rather a highway of compassionate discourse and understanding, fairness and hope.
Monday, Jan. 16 is MLK day. Members of the NAACP and EPD will stand for justice by marching together from EPD to the Adorni Center. There, we can celebrate Dr. King and continue to pursue his ideals. In a small way fulfill his dream. When peaceful protestors in Selma, Alabama, crested the bridge in 1965, peaceful they were met by riot police with tear gas and night sticks. Here we can dim that vision of travesty, honoring the memory of civil rights advocates by marching arm-in-arm as we crest the Fifth Street hill walking toward the courthouse.
Lastly, we can mentor. The Boys & Girls Club needs responsible adults who are willing to serve as positive guides to kids, many are people of color, and help them succeed. Eureka this is your opportunity to help heal the racial divide. I would also invite people of color to mentor EPD. Teach us. Help us navigate the turbulence of policing a free society where people of color often feel singled out for enforcement and are disenfranchised from government. Teach us to understand fairness and aide our implementation of procedural justice through fairness.
Then, just maybe, Eureka can demonstrate to the world what a just and free society looks like. Peace, civility and hope can be palpable also.
Andy Mills has served as Eureka's chief of police since 2013.
For a different perspective on this issue, read a views piece by Elizabeth Smith here.
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