With the deaths of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and many others, conversation regarding racial bias in police departments across the country has come to the forefront. In Boulder, a recent independent report found that racial bias exists within the police department. KGNU’s Julia Caulfield reports that on February 5th, a group of community members met in Boulder to begin thinking about the future of policing in Boulder County. The meeting was born out of conversations by a number of local racial justice organizations about police accountability and racial bias.
Kris Abrams, has worked for social justice causes for many years and co-facilitated of the event. She says the police department has been receptive of critiques from the study, but adds that the community has a role to play as well.
“What has been missing is the community starting to take responsibility for its own voice, and its own involvement and engaging with the police in a proactive way to say ‘this is what we want. This is what we want in our community, this is what we want policing to look like, and we want to work with you’ so that’s what this first meeting was about.”
Participants sat in small circles to engage in a number of exercises–from independent visioning to collective brainstorming–to explore the values they find important within their community, and the vision they have for policing. At the end of the event there were no definite answers or actions, rather a collection of ideas of what people would like to see in the future.
“I was hoping that people would come and just bring their ideas and not limit themselves to what’s possible, but to expand themselves to future that we can draw ourselves into, that we can use our imaginations and say “what is possible?” and question the things that we consider to be established…But it has to first be imagined, so I think we did that by creating this space for imagination to kind of run the show.”
That’s Pedro Silva, an associate pastor at First Congregational Church in Boulder, and co-facilitator of the event. He says that developing a vision is an important first step in an action. This event was the first step to creating a communal vision of what policing could look like in the future.
Abrams says it’s important for the community to come together and have these conversations, rather than jumping directly into action.
“This is a movement building event, this is not an okay, now we know what we’re going to do kind of event, this is a let’s bring people together, let’s create a culture of meeting together that brings out the best in people, let’s start to work towards our positive vision. We’re not at action steps.”
While members of the Police Department were invited to the event, none were present, and the event was attended largely by community members. But Silva says it is important to have the police involved in the conversation as well.
“They’re people that are part of the community, that say, what is there vision? How do they understand their job in the community? If we treat them as if they’re separate, everything they do is going to be separate. So I would invite them to say, ‘this is how I understand my job. You know when I was a little child and I decided to be a police officer, this is what spoke to me about the job, that’s why I chose it’ So that we can begin to understand the values that they represent and we might find that we have a lot of the same values.”
The Boulder chapter of Standing Up for Racial Justice helped to organize this particular event, however, Silva says it is important that no one particular organization is in charge.
“I think that we need to be as flat as possible. Typically because, I think a lot of people feel dis-empowered, and there’s a general tendency of people to, if there’s a person that they think of as the leader, they kind of outsource their power, and I don’t think that we need to do that.”
While there are no set events for the future, organizers hope to recreate similar events and engage with the police department and more communities of color.