Race relations and law enforcement

Race relations and law enforcement

It is a topic that is very difficult to discuss; partially because of the historical context and the interesting dynamics at play. But if there is one way to go about understanding the topic of race relations and law enforcement you have realize the perspectives involved.

An artist like Eliana Miranda uses the concept of perspective all the time in her art.

"I'm a first-generation American," she said.

Her work mostly focuses on social issues and lately it has been on immigration and policing.

"This is what we're exposed to," Eliana said pointing to real life photos on her studio wall taken by journalists of protests and especially the role police play at those protests.

There is also no shortage of images on social media played over and over and over. Those videos often become reminders that something is broken when it comes to race-relations.

"If we ignore it- it could exceed what we are capable as a society of dealing with," said Thomas Glover with the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas.

And nowhere is the disconnect more evident than in interactions with police.

"You have essentially an American version of aparthied...that originally was by law and is now by economics," said historian Michael Phillips, also a local professor.

Phillips has no qualms about saying that about the cultural dynamics in Dallas. He says Dallas' history is fraught with injustice. He immediately mentions the murder of Santos Rodriguez by an officer in 1973.

"He started a game of Russian Roulette with the kid and the kid ended up dying," said Phillips. That was one of the first big cases that got national attention that showed the ugly side of bad interactions between police and community. It appears those scars have not healed.

Almost everyone we talked to agrees race relations aren't at its worst, but it is bad.

"I start out by telling people that I am pro-police. I'm also pro-community," said Glover.

Thomas Glover took WFAA to South Dallas. It is a community he knows very well and vice versa.

"We didn't like the officers. We were complaining and then there was a shooting...then all of a sudden we were heard," Tabitha told Glover, a black woman and long-time business owner in Dallas.

We heard this often that it took tragedy to make stuff happen; that stories weren't believed which led to mistrust.

"People are taught as children...not to talk with police. It is a generational thing," another man said to Glover. He says it's generational because he remembers he and his friends wanting to be officers growing up.

Joli Robinson is with the Dallas Police Department's Community Affairs Department. She works with officers on a daily basis to improve and maintain strong relationships with all communities. She says there will always be that challenge of perception.

Robinson says her officers meeting with different communities is essential to the concept of community policing. It's about hearing from the people they serve.

"How does it feel as a police officer wearing a uniform to walk into spaces and be judged based on your uniform and nothing else," said Robinson.

We are bombarded with images of possible excessive force cases. Social media has ignited these firestorms. Phillips says media needs to share in the blame of creating this disconnect between the two sides.

"The media and culture teaches them that black and brown people are dangerous," said Phillips.

Mediums like social media and Facebook give fuel to movements and before a verdict is ever returned. These often-20 second video snapshots force us to pick sides between pro-police or pro-communities of color.

"Before the advent of cell phones and video cameras...and social media. We were told these things didn't exist," said Glover.

Robinson says any time one of these videos of possible excessive force comes out, it makes it a challenge for officers.

"It pains them. It doesn't make them angry. It pains them to know that the profession they are in...the profession they feel passionately about also has to defend itself on a daily basis," she said.

What happened on July 7, 2016 when five officers died at the hands of a gunman, people argue was either a symptom of strained tensions or the boiling point. They can agree it did not help.

"The way we acted in Dallas after July 7 is how we should act every day of the year. We stepped away from our promises," Glover.

Glover is referring to promises of open communication and of understanding.
 
The fix is not simple every event stifles progress of connecting the community and police.

"I want people to start discussing these issues," said Miranda.

She's hoping through her art she can start the dialogue...knowing full well it's also about perspective.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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