African-American citizens around the United States, and in North Carolina and its Capital City, are skeptical about the relationship between police and their communities. In view of incidents in recent months and years that view is understandable, though it shouldn’t necessarily be applied to all police in all cities all the time.
But racial tensions are indeed real and must be addressed.
In Raleigh, a citizens’ coalition has asked the city’s human relations commission to recommend what the group views as important steps to improve policing in the city. Most of the recommendations seem sound.
They include body cameras, something that has become increasingly popular around the country. While the policies regarding the cameras would have to protect individual rights , a recent episode in Raleigh in which a young man was shot to death by an officer is the latest case to be made for cameras. In the wake of that incident, disputing claims about what happened have come forth.
Some citizens claim the man, Akiel Denkins, was running away from the officer. Police accounts say he was carrying a gun and was a threat. It’s not certain that body cameras would have solved the discrepancy – but they might have.
The group also wants more training for officers in crisis intervention, written consent-to-search forms, more officers of color and improved relations between the police and communities.
The coalition also is calling for an oversight board with subpoena power to investigate and discipline officers who have “committed wrong doing.” This might be problematic, given that there are protocols that include the State Bureau of Investigation and internal procedures for investigation in place.
It’s important that community leaders, who have made worthwhile suggestions, not go into efforts like this assuming the worst of police officers. Most officers want to help the communities in which they work. The are diligent and they are brave, particularly considering gang activity present in Raleigh as it is everywhere. The positive contributions of most police, in other words, should not be disregarded because of problems.
That said, city officials should be just as diligent in investigating incidents such as the tragic one in the Bragg Street neighborhood south of downtown. It is fortunate that Raleigh appears to be welcoming to the kind of dialogue this community coalition wants.