National Night Out 2015: How block parties brought neighbors and police officers together

Communities across the country hosted block parties, festivals, parades, and cookouts on Tuesday evening to celebrate the 32nd annual event.

Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton shoots a basketball at the National Night Out block party Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, in Minneapolis.

More than 16,000 communities across the country came together on Tuesday night to improve relations between neighborhood residents and law enforcement officers for the 32nd annual National Night Out. 

Towns and cities spanning a wide range of states, populations, and demographic makeups hosted block parties, festivals, and parades in the hopes of promoting “police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie.” These events featured food, games, safety demonstrations, educational seminars, and most importantly, friendly conversation. 

For some communities, such as Baltimore, National Night Out 2015 was particularly timely. The city’s resident-police relations took a turn for the worse in April with the death of Freddie Gray and subsequent rioting, and continued their downward spiral with a summer spike in violent crime. The city’s monthly murder rate in July was the highest it had been in over 40 years, prompting local authorities to enlist the help of federal agents

"There's never a time where I think we need to come together more as a community," Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said at Tuesday night’s events. "Too many in our community know who the perpetrators are. We know who is perpetrating the violence. We need to speak up. We can't be silent.”

Halfway across the country in Minneapolis, Minn., residents of north Minneapolis were focused on breaking down the negative crime-related stereotypes associated with the Folwell neighborhood. 

While local children got their faces painted and played with basketballs and jump ropes, their parents chatted with law enforcement officers and city and state officials, including the mayor and governor. 

“I wanted to help the elected officials see what really goes on here,” neighborhood resident Marc Cameron, who organized the National Night Out block party in Folwell, explained to the Star Tribune. “It’s something I grew up with: taking pride in the neighborhood.”

More than 1,500 similar neighborhood gatherings took place across the city, the Tribune reports. 

The annual event has existed since 1981, but is arguably more relevant than ever today given the "Black Lives Matter" movement, which was born in response to racially biased police brutality. A recent survey conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that a majority of black Americans say they or a family member have personal experience with being treated unfairly by the police. 

"To be sure, for many police officers, widespread criticism of police behavior and tactics has been until the past year a largely a foreign concept," writes The Christian Science Monitor's Patrik Jonsson. "As recently as 2013, Gallup found that Americans think cops are more trustworthy than priests."

This rising distrust in law enforcement is why events such as National Night Out are so important, said Orlando police Chief John Mina in an interview with local television station News 13. But he also stressed that officers should try to foster a friendly relationship with residents every day, not just one night a year. 

"We want our officers getting out of their cars. We want them to roll down the windows. We want them to talk to our citizens, especially our kids," Chief Mina said. "I tell our officers every day I want them to somehow touch the life of child. Even if it's just a smile, a wave, play catch, talk about sports, we think it's very important for our officers to interact with our residents, especially our children in those non-enforcement type situations.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.