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Black Law Enforcement Officers Urge Community Calm and Changes in Police-Community Interactions

Dated: Tuesday November 25, 2014

The suspense is now over. With the announcement on Monday, November 24, 2014 that there would be no indictment of Off. Darren Wilson of the Ferguson, MO Police Department in the death of Michael Brown, the long, drawn-out process of the grand jury hearings has finally come to an end.

It must be understood and accepted by all that this decision brings no solace to Mr. Brown’s family and the Ferguson community, as both, along with numerous others, expected something much more as an outcome. We do not yet know the extent or nature of the information that was presented, nor the path in which it was directed. Yet this is the result of our system of justice and we must abide by this decision. We must also recognize that there are still other legal avenues of approach that may be taken.

We are mindful that this decision will not find unilateral support. Thus we join the Brown family in asking that any and all demonstrations of frustration and disappointment be made in the most peaceful and orderly fashion possible, showing respect for the lives and property of all, be they citizen or law enforcement officer. As law enforcement officers, while we will demand the right for your voices to be heard be respected, we must also strongly object to the random acts of violence, vandalism and mayhem that have now begun to take place and urge that these activities cease immediately. We strenuously encourage our law enforcement counterparts to remember that those who are demonstrating peacefully have a constitutional right to do so and must in all terms be shown the respect and dignity they so richly deserve. We remind all that violence does not provide an answer-it merely causes and exacerbates the problem.

We are, however, painfully aware that this issue has repeated itself numerous times throughout the nation, almost to the point of being epidemic in its proportionality. And there has seemingly been no significant levels of accountability applied in even the slightest number of these instances. It is strongly perceived by many that the value of life in communities of color is cheapened and is of little concern where law enforcement is involved. Yet even this is subsidiary to what must be considered the true root cause: the total, severe and serious disconnect between law enforcement and those communities of color that they are sworn to protect. This disconnect exists specifically due to the racial, economic, educational and political disparities that have been nurtured and allowed to exist, and have yet to be addressed by the rank and file of our profession.

This disconnect comes from a continuing failure to interact positively with members of the community. Serious, in-depth, and continuing conversations must be conducted to adequately determine citizen needs and expectations, provide them with a full and complete understanding of the law enforcement process, and become more transparent in those processes. It is not enough to merely drive by and wave at people. You must engage them in conversation, listen to their complaints, show them compassion, respect, dignity and empathy. Recognize that not all persons in the community have either a criminal background or intent. Understand that a militant approach is not always warranted or acceptable.

As well, stronger and more dedicated attempts must be made to make the face of your agencies reflect those of the community. More serious and concentrated efforts must be made to recruit, retain and promote officers of color. Significant research supports the concepts that they bring added legitimacy, more societal acceptance, a stronger sense of community, and have a strong impact on the concepts of community policing.

Likewise, more consideration of those personality traits that have an impact on direct citizen interaction should be given during the actual hiring of law enforcement officers. Such issues as mediation skills, social interaction skills, awareness of cultural diversity, and problem solving skills are critical to the day-to-day activities of law enforcement officers, yet these very skills are seemingly neglected during hiring.

Ultimately, there must be systematic and systemic change in the methodology adapted for dealing with issues in the community. And while we do not, cannot, and will not advocate the need for law enforcement officers to take unnecessary risks in the performance of their duties, we, as a profession, must insure that there will never be another unarmed person of color whose life is destroyed by our actions. We must constantly be mindful of the fact that, in each of our communities that feels they are oppressed and disrespected by members of law enforcement, another Ferguson is waiting to raise itself and declare its anger and frustration at a system that has been felt to be adversely dispassionate towards them.

We must collectively advocate for the enhancement of the relationships and bonds with the community that must exist in order that we may provide them with adequate, effective service. “Protect and Serve” must no longer be merely a catch phrase, it must become a mantra that is heard throughout the community.

The National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Inc, a 501.(c).(3) non-profit, is a premier national organization representing the interests and concerns of African American, Latino and other criminal justice practitioners of color serving in law enforcement, corrections, and investigative agencies throughout the United States, and the communities in which they serve.

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