The “frayed trust” between law enforcement and the community is getting the attention it demands from the nation’s leaders. This includes U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch who attributes this disconnect, in part, to “recent tragedies over the last several weeks that struck a chord with so many people.”
In an effort to improve relations between citizens and police, Lynch traveled to Detroit in search of solutions within the community, where she said answers can be found.
Her two-day visit began at an annual National Night Out event on Aug. 2 at Fitzpatrick Play Field in Detroit to encourage neighborhood camaraderie. Lynch was joined by U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit Police Chief James Craig with Detroit’s 6th and 8th precincts.
Lynch continued more formal conversations in Wayne State University’s McGregor Memorial Conference Center on Aug. 3 during the first in a scheduled series of nationwide Justice Forums on police-community relations.
“As painful as the discussion has been, it has allowed us to get to the point where we can now realize the depth of the issues and the depth of the grief,” Lynch said to members of law enforcement, officials, community leaders, clergy and citizens.
The goal, she said, is to bring people together, to critically examine the issues, and to open up new channels for dialogue and exchanges of ideas.
Talks began in August 2014 amid protests following Michael Brown’s fatal shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. In response to public outcry, President Obama established the President’s Task Force on 21s Century Policing in December 2014 to identify best practices and promote effective policing while building public trust.
Since then, Lynch has toured several police departments nationwide to see which cities had strong ties to the community, and which didn’t, before the findings of the 21st Century Policing report were released in May 2015.
Department of Justice spokesman Kevin Lewis told The Detroit News that by coming to Detroit, Lynch wants to find out what police have learned, and what recommendations they have moving forward to continue those relationships with the community.
In this next phase – as the number of deadly police shootings in the U.S. continues to rise – Lynch is asking authorities to offer solutions that “we can lift up, implement and carry to other jurisdictions, so that we can actually begin to make a difference.”
LGBT and Police
Equality Michigan’s Executive Director Stephanie White said the relationship between the LGBT community and law enforcement is an “evolving” one.
White reiterates that annual Pride events arose from violence, particularly police brutality against the LGBT community.
Now, she said, “instead of being one of such conflict, it’s a celebration of solidarity. There is still a great deal of work to be done, particularly for transgender women of color who have multiple identities that intersect in sometimes tragic ways in society.”
White drew attention to the elevated rates of violence and murder against transgender women of color.
2016 has already seen at least 16 transgender people – 13 of the victims were transgender women of color – fatally shot, stabbed and killed by other violent means, according to data compiled by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.
“In many police departments, their lives are not seen as equal to other lives, crimes against them are not deemed to be important enough to be investigated fully. We absolutely believe in building relationships that they’ll trust. But in some police departments, we get push back,” she said.
White suggests having more mandatory cultural competency that not only deals with race, but also sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We would love help reaching out to departments who have put up walls against that,” she said. “There are many departments who are great and say sure, come on in, we’ll be happy to talk, but many say no, they don’t need it. One of the solutions I would like to see is a better recognition of the full humanity of transgender women of color.”
Lynch acknowledged the many voices being raised in the LGBT, African American and other minority communities during her afternoon press briefing on Aug. 3 at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit.
For any group in this country that feels disenfranchised or disaffected, Lynch said she will make sure they are “seen and heard, and the justice system exists for them also.”
At the practical level, she noted that people often hurt before that happens.
“We understand that very much and we often come in after there’s been some harm or after there’s been an issue raised and what I always say is that while I cannot essentially guarantee the absence of prejudice, I can guarantee the presence of justice,” she said. “This administration on down wants very much to make sure that groups have a voice at the local level.”
Lynch urged marginalized groups to seek out local organizations such as Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust, Michigan Alliance against Hate Crimes, Building Respect in Diverse Groups to Enhance Sensitivity -better known as BRIDGES – and Detroit One to raise concerns and make them known.
“In the wake of incidents that we’ve experienced so recently that are all still of fresh in all of our minds, it can indeed be easy to lose sight of the way forward and can also be easy to think that there’s nothing that we can do,” Lynch said, noting that these are examples of organizations that are addressing deeper issues and coming up with concrete, tangible solutions that can be implemented and sustained.
“This is an ongoing conversation, and people in Detroit have laid a great foundation for us,” she said. “Everyone wants to be seen; everyone wants to be understood; everyone wants to be recognized as somebody who can contribute. That’s why I’m here.”