There’s been a lot of talk across the country about growing tensions between police and minorities. Thursday in Arlington, national and local leaders, chiefs of police and community members had a lengthy conversation about how they can help improve those relations.
Although the headlines spotlight events in Ferguson and New York City, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union say many of the same underlying issues affecting those communities are felt in Texas.
“Texas certainly has an issue with racial profiling,” said Satinder Singh, who works for the Texas ACLU. “It’s not an issue that’s unique to Missouri or to the NYPD. It affects every law enforcement agency, including here in Texas.”
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“We don’t want to see bloodshed in the streets,” said U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), a Democrat from Dallas. “And we’re heading in that direction unless we try to do something to address it.”
Johnson and her staff helped organize a forum at UT-Arlington Thursday, where leaders discussed ways to improve relations with police. U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Marc Veasey and Al Green attended as well.
“People are really hurt,” said Jackson-Lee, a Democrat from the Houston area. “As the commissioner in New York said, we must see each other. Police must see us and we must see the police.”
The lengthy conversation included several panels with speakers like Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson, who shared how his department’s community policing efforts have helped to build trust with citizens.
“Community relations is the number one thing any police department does,” said Johnson. “People have to see me as a person, not just an individual standing here in a uniform. And you can only do that by spending time with people.”
He said his department has made a push to do that by teaming up with various outreach groups, organizing community events and meetings and putting resources into its crime prevention unit.
“All of those things have an effect on the crime rate and an effect on the livability in a community,” said Johnson.
Others panelists like Singh called for action by state and national leaders, urging them to require more detailed reporting for all police shooting incidents.
“For example, we don’t have numbers on the racial makeup of those who are killed by police officers,” said Singh. “We can improve that, and that way we can all be having the same conversation.”
Jackson-Lee said she will push for criminal justice reform this year. Green plans to introduce a bill that would help police agencies purchase body cameras.
Those at Thursday’s meeting said they were encouraged by the conversations they had and hope they can lead to change in the near future.
“The way that we solve this is by talking,” said Singh.
“We hope the outcome of this meeting is that we will have real suggestions that we can take to the table with our colleagues, with local officials, with law enforcement, with the Justice Department, and what have you, to see what we can do a united effort,” said Johnson.