Beneath the surface of an America convulsed by protests and anger after the shooting of Michael Brown – a young black man – by a policeman in Ferguson, Mo., is also an America trying to find solutions more quietly and cooperatively.
Across the United States, “die-ins” and rallies to shut down freeways have brought high-profile attention to calls for police and justice reform. But from San Francisco to Baltimore, citizens have come together in churches and meeting halls to try to start a new dialogue.
Sometimes, the efforts have been in concert with larger protest movements such as Black Lives Matter. Other times, they have started on their own from a desire to build common ground. But they represent an effort by black communities nationwide to draw together and work locally in hopes of driving change.
“These past few months have coalesced an unprecedented amount of concern by community leaders, law enforcement, youth, and clergy alike to really come together, roll up the sleeves and come up with substantive, creative solutions – not just protest,” says Raphael Bostic, a professor at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
One of the rights for police is “that an officer can only be interrogated 10 days after a shooting,” says the Rev. Dr. Heber Brown III, community activist and pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore. “Well, in that 10 days, so much can happen ... so we are saying the law that applies to you and me should be same for police officers.”
In Wichita, the goal has been to find ways to get a constructive conversation going. “The point of this is to offset the overabundance of far-right talk radio stations and develop a place where people on both sides can have a real dialogue and find answers instead of just talking past each other,” says Reuben Eckels, deputy director of Sunflower Community Action.
Among those issues, he says, is the need for police training in dealing with the mentally challenged. He also says African-Americans and Latinos need a forum they can trust to hear about the issues that concern them, from immigration and drug abuse to employment opportunities and education.
He says his group worked with the Kansas Legislature to examine a number of programs ranging from fair lending to helping former felons find work.
“A lot of these social justice issues are deemed radical in this area which is dominated by right-wing talk shows,” he says. “So we’re developing our own outlet.”