The aroma wafting through the sanctuary at Revelation Missionary Baptist Church on Davie Street during its first Coffee with a Cop event Monday night was an unmistakable wake-up call.
Community members and police officers took first steps toward easing tensions by communicating across cultures.
The timing couldn’t have been better.
Issues of racism and racial profiling of African-Americans are center stage across the country.
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In Baltimore, peaceful protests by thousands were interrupted by riots over the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.
In Midtown Raleigh, the community is uniting, from Southeast Raleigh to the statehouse, to address issues of racial profiling after news emerged that four black boys were kicked out of the Crabtree Valley Mall food court, accused of loitering.
Diana Haywood Powell, a court advocate who heads Justice Served North Carolina, hosted Coffee with a Cop as an extension of her work to help young offenders get back on the right track and educate the community.
“We have to sit down and talk about how this is affecting us,” she said. “We can march and we can be reactive, but it’s time for us to be proactive, to sit down and plan strategically to change things.
“We have to educate ourselves and know our rights.”
On Tuesday, state Rep. Rodney Moore of Mecklenburg County was flanked by about 75 people from across the state who want state legislators to pass into law a bill to prohibit discriminatory profiling.
Moore, inspired by Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012, introduced Bill 193 in March.
It calls for prohibiting all forms of profiling, whether based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or so on.
It would also require cultural training for all law enforcement officers to better equip them to deal with and communicate amid growing diversity in our communities.
In addition, the bill would establish Citizens Review Boards to give residents oversight of the police, and provide more transparency between police and the community. The boards would have power to subpoena and make binding decisions, along with investigative powers.
The bill also addresses private policing like that at Crabtree, and would hold companies that own them to the same standard, Moore said.
The bill, stalled in a House committee, would also require cultural diversity training for members of Neighborhood Watch organizations, he said.
Searching for answers
During Coffee with Cops, community members voiced concerns about interactions between police and residents, hoping to get answers from the six Raleigh police officers of the Community Squad of Southeast Raleigh.
Concerns ranged from the reason a mother’s son was questioned by an officer in a passing police cruiser about a car in the driveway to a father wondering what to tell his children to do if approached by cops.
While there were no definitive answers to many questions, “It’s a learning experience,” said Officer L.L. Keelin. “I just hope we keep going in the right direction. We have to communicate. We have to listen as well as we talk.”
Wake County District Court Judge Vince Rozier Jr. hoped officers could help community members understand how to exercise their constitutional rights and avoid arrest by outlining procedures and their expectations during various interactions.
“There are terminologies that are familiar with certain cultures, and it doesn’t have to be racial or economic culture,” Rozier said. “Law enforcement has its own culture of communication, and the community has its own culture. It’s human nature. Sometimes, if we feel challenged, we resort back to the language of our culture and defend that culture instead of taking time to figure out how to communicate effectively where we’re coming from.
“Monday night was an opportunity to bridge that gap in communication,” Rozier said. “At times, we took advantage of it and at times, we lost the opportunity. That’s something the community and law enforcement can work on.”