In the wake of recent deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castille and killing of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the Renton Police Department (RPD), African American Pastors Group (RAAP) and the city responded by scheduling an “open dialogue” between the groups for this past Monday.
The meeting was attended by Mayor Denis Law, Rev. Dr. Linda Smith, Police Chief Kevin Milosevich and representatives from both the RAAP and RPD.
While the group meets regularly for meetings and other events, this meeting was scheduled in response to the fatal shootings that have dominated national headlines over the past weeks.
The meeting was treated as a forum for clergy representatives and officers to openly express their thoughts, reflections and concerns about race relations in the Renton community.
“It’s always open a new wound that you think is just beginning to heal when something like this happens,” said Smith. “[There’s] pain, anxiety, fear because I have a son, I have a grandson and I have lots of nephews. On the other side, I have police friends. They have families. It’s a lot of fear, it’s a lot of pain. And it should not be so.”
“Renton has an incredible record and relationship with the community that is different from other places. That goes away real quick with events like this,” said Deputy Chief Ed VanValey. “There’s immediately a fear on law enforcement’s side… There’s fear for the African-American parents for their kids that they’re out there and worried if Renton is a safe place. There’s this fear that’s forcing people to have this picture of law enforcement and African Americans, and how they deal with each other in Renton. It’s happening some place else, but it comes back here.”
“This is a very difficult time for us as a country,” said Law. “I’m so pleased with RAAP and their ongoing willingness to work with the city and work with RPD. I’m very proud of the police department. The command staff is embracing the fact that we need to do business differently. We need to have these conversations and break down the stigmas and build on the relationships so we can build an environment where people can talk to each other.”
The partnership between RPD and RAAP began in 2014 as a response to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in the hope of creating trust between law enforcement and Renton’s African-American community. The group has been hosting open dialogues and events since early 2015 to try to build relationships with community members and to improve communication, understanding and respect with the police.
So far, the group has hosted multiple events, including workshops on education, social issues, law and justice, and employment; hosted a “Cops, Kids and Teens” event; created multiple community dialogue events; and handed out pamphlets at Gene Coulon Beach Memorial Park on July 4.
George Houston, pastor of Living Hope Christian Fellowship and RAAP member, has been working with the RPD as a recently-appointed chaplain to assist the department with crises and help give comprehensive care to the community.
RAAP members are also signing up to have RPD officers and representatives to come to their churches to talk and build relationship with their congregation.
The fatal shootings of Castille in Minnesota and Sterling in Louisiana this month resulted in a national outcry over police shootings of black men. Five police officers in Dallas were killed and seven were wounded during a protest following Castille and Sterling’s deaths.