January 1, 2015 Chicago,, Il. Officers from the Chicago Police Department are working with an Organization known as North Lawndale nonprofit who work with people who have been released from jail and are working toward finding a new place in the community.
Recently Officers have begun to meet with people who have served time from the community and have been released to discuss their perception of Police and discuss issues. But that is not all. Officers get to tell their side of the story and how they perceive interactions as well.
The hour long events are sponsored by North Lawndale nonprofit which is an organization also known as U-Turn. It’s goal’s are designed in a four week program to assist people after incarceration with strategies to assist people for work, conflict resolution, anger management, resume development, financial coaching, and racial healing.
Officers and former inmates met at a former Jewish Synagogue where they ate, talked and played games to break the ice with each other.
WTTW did a story regarding the encounter and spoke with Jose Wilson, of NLEN who said : “When you think about what’s happening right now in America, and specifically right here in Chicago, having an honest dialogue is important for police officers to have better understanding of community, specifically those men
and women with felony backgrounds and vice versa. Once you have negative information, it’s very easy to paint each other with one broad stroke of negative perceptions.”
Indeed perceptions about Officers from former inmates can be very one sided and Officers can have very one sidesd Opinions about inmates as well. It would seem that taking these two groups and putting them in such a setting where the officers are not answering a call and the individual citizens are not seeing the Officers as authority figures but as people does have a change in perception to some degree.
One citizen who attended the meeting named ‘Daniel’ said : “You know I empathize with the black female officers, when they said that they experience being black and being on a police force. It’s not something I think about. I empathize with it, but it didn’t cause me to want to fully embrace them, because we all have choices of what career we get into. I can’t even get a job. I don’t have that many options like that, you got options.”
The important take away from this interaction is that most of the people in the room had never spoken with each group of people before. While they may well have been friends had officers not have chosen their professions their uniforms define who they are to a citizen in their eyes, what they represent and who they are as a person.
Likewise officers who never see subjects without having been called to the neighborhoods unless there are problems may immediately think negatively about the people who live there automatically. Nothing could be further from the truth. These barriers have to be broken.
While these barriers are in the mind are born of practice, they can be changed through dialog. While finding people to ‘break the ice’ with is not easy it is necessary. Even in such settings as was made possible by NLEN there was not total success but it was a step in the right direction.
Officers need to take the initiative in seeking out community leaders in all forms to have dialog with people in the communities that they serve. It is the only way that the Thin Blue Line will be come Wider.
Good luck and be safe!