Civil Action

Black leaders meet with local law enforcement to improve relationships after Dallas

Members of Tucson's black community met with high-ranking officials within the Tucson Police Department and Pima County Sheriff's department on Friday, July 8, to discuss their relationship following the deaths of five Dallas police officers the day before.

The talks were initiated by DaMond Holt, senior pastor of Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church and president of Ministers Alliance in Tucson.

"We reached out to the Sheriff's department...and we reached out to our civil rights leaders," he said. "We're here to come together in be more strategic and intentional in building stronger relations between our law enforcement community and community of color."

During a press conference following the meeting, members of the community along with Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos, Tucson Police Assistant Chief Ramon Batista and Capt. Chad Kasmar expressed their condolences for the attack in Dallas as well as innocent lives lost at the hands of police officers.

"I believe and I hope and call and pray that this can now open a dialogue between the African American community and the law enforcement community so that we no longer see each other as adversaries but as friends," said Grady Scott, a senior pastor of Grace Temple MBC.

While the department has not instituted new procedures in light of the attack in Dallas, Deborah Embry, president of the Tucson Urban League, said the group is working on a national movement to address the disproportional amount of police violence against black people.

"The Urban League movement has put forth a plan...that includes review and revision of police use of deadly force policies, comprehensive retraining of police officers, the appointment of special prosecutors to investigate police misconduct and widespread use of body cameras and dashboard cameras," she said.

Much of the conversation centered around the TPD's new focus on community policing in which officers participate in activities beyond enforcement and crime prevention in order to become more engaged in the community.

"Tucson was picked as one of 15 police departments across the country to advance the ideals and recommendations of 21st policing." Kasmar said. "Our officer's ability to engage in non-law-enforcement-related activities such as stopping and playing basketball with a group of kids or reading to a group of kids while another group of officers was cooking burgers."

TPD has put more officers in the field in the last six months under the command of Chief Magnus, which has improved response times to calls and allowed officers to partake in more recreational activities with the community.

Holt created a program called "Hoops with a Cop" through which Tucson police officers visit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson and help children with their homework, answer questions and play basketball in order to establish and enhance the relation with the community.

Though relationships are improving, Holt said there is still work to be done as the effects of national police violence towards black people reverberate throughout the Tucson community.

"It has increased tension in our community," he said. "Often we've seen these deadly shootings take place and we get indictments but we get no convictions. So it's more of the same and it appears that justice matter to all people except African Americans. That's why we have Black Lives Matter."

Several of the leaders present at the press conference attended a Black Lives Matter vigil on July 9 held for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile who were shot by police earlier in the week.

"People are concerned. If we can get this many people together on short notice it shows that things are happening in America that are concerning for people of all colors," said Doris Snowden, president of Tucson NAACP, at the rally. "The only thing I think that will cure racism in America is love, understanding and forgiveness. We can't live in yesterday with the hatred we see on bumper stickers or the hatred we see in our political parties today."

Demonstrators met in Armory Park where speakers addressed the crowd before marching down Fourth Avenue and returning to the park.

Herb Buckner, a pastor with the Divinely Inspired Ministry and teacher at Utterback Magnet Middle School, said he agreed with the sentiment of vigil.

"Both groups have fear," he said. "The same fear a police officer feels when he walks to a car is the same fear a black motorist feels when the policeman is walking to the car. So the fear is common. The fear is the biggest issue right now and I think both parties need to recognize and honor each other's fear."