I pay attention, and I’m fairly certain not one police chief of any American city soiled by recent threads of racially charged police-involved shootings chatted with the people most affected, scared and angry.
Well, that just happened in Southeast Raleigh.
On Monday, Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown walked into the basement of Revelation Baptist Church on Davie Street. It’d been three weeks since Senior Officer D.C. Twiddy shot and killed 24-year-old Akiel Denkins while trying to arrest him for not showing up to court for a felony drug charge.
“I don’t want to just sit and talk,” Deck-Brown said. “I want to hear what’s on your mind. You have a chief who is very much ingrained into the community. I’m present.”
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It was Week 72 of Bring Back the Village, a weekly community forum hosted by Diana Haywood Powell, who leads Justice Served North Carolina, a grassroots advocacy group recently barred after years of access from visiting jails and courtrooms to help inmates navigate their cases.
“It’s important that she does connect with us,” Powell said of the police chief. “God’s timing is perfect.”
Deck-Brown first commended Southeast Raleigh for keeping its peace.
“Some were looking for a Ferguson,” said Deck-Brown, accompanied by two officers. “Regardless what side of the issue you stand on, thank you for inviting us here. I know it all weighs heavy on so many hearts. It weighs heavy on my heart, too.”
Some people thanked Deck-Brown for urging the city to buy police body cameras. Tougher questions centered on what’s on Deck-Brown’s mind.
Is she willing to explore a recent proposal by the Police Accountability Community Taskforce to establish a citizen review board authorized to investigate, subpoena and discipline law enforcement? And is it something Raleigh needs?
“I’m open to having a conversation with anyone,” Deck-Brown said.
Citizen review boards “have a purpose at times,” she said, but sometimes that purpose and focus are clouded by adversarial agendas.
“It’s hard to say” whether it’s necessary in Raleigh, Deck-Brown said. “But I’m willing to listen to input from the community.”
What’s her opinion on racially charged police-involved shootings nationwide?
“To me, any time there’s a situation like that, it impacts the community as a whole, and law enforcement officers are part of that community,” Deck-Brown said. “We don’t pack up and move away at the end of our shifts. And we didn’t sign up for those incidents to happen. Officers are slain also, and none of it is right. I have worked very hard to build trust with our community. It chisels away at trust between law enforcement and the community. Tragic, it is. This is where we start again.”
Some say Deck-Brown is the first to show up because she’s black, better able than white law enforcement officials to identify with or understand the community’s culture, concerns and challenges.
“She’s familiar with our background,” said Johnny Conyers, whose godson, James E. Alston, was a former gang member working to turn his life around through Justice Served when he was shot and killed on Quarry Street. “She came from where we came from and wanted to show her face, and her compassion.”
In his chat with the chief, Conyers zeroed in on the need for community policing to return. Cops should really get to know all the residents, including teens and young adults. Police should see people as human beings, not “subjects.”
“I hear you,” said Deck-Brown, noting her department’s summer baseball league and charm school, and mentoring and gang prevention programs. She also noted a series of community conversations.
Residents asked that those return soon.
The chief also turned the mirror, encouraging residents to “hear yourselves tonight, too.” Get informed and speak up on all community issues, including systemic social issues that don’t originate with police.
“Sometimes it’s about crime,” she said, “but sometimes it’s about the houses being developed right beside you. Have that voice.
“It takes a village,” Deck-Brown said. “You make up the village, and it should never take a crisis for the community to come together. But if this is the turning point to allow us to do that, then let’s do it.”