Building goodwill

Published 5:10 pm Wednesday, August 8, 2018

On Tuesday, Washington residents were among the millions of Americans who celebrated National Night Out. Bringing together law enforcement and the community, the nationwide event serves as an opportunity to build trust and respect between local agencies and the citizens they serve.

That respect and goodwill was on full display in Washington during the event. In other cities across the nation, however, we live in a time when relations between law enforcement and the community are tense and distrustful. The prevailing us vs. them mentality sparks anger, and even hatred, for groups on either side of the thin blue line.

As much as we would like to imagine we live in a post-racial society, race still plays a role when it comes to interactions with police. In 2017, PBS released a two hour documentary titled “The Talk: Race in America.”

The documentary focuses on a phenomenon almost entirely exclusive to African-American and Hispanic families — discussions between parents and children on how to literally survive encounters with the police.

Indignation over unjust killings of young men of color gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013. A year later, the murders of two police officers in New York sparked a countermovement in the form of Blue Lives Matter.

The result is yet another battleground in the culture wars that so sharply divide Americans in this day and age. Amplified by social media, the voices on both sides seem to just get louder and angrier, and everyone is expected to pick a side.

When an innocent, unarmed black person is killed by a police officer during a routine traffic stop, that is an injustice. When all police officers are unfairly characterized as trigger-happy, racist murderers, that too is an injustice.

So how do we heal the hatred gripping our country?

It starts with recognizing our common humanity, and trying to understand each other. It continues with listening to each other and trying to build positive relations between law enforcement and our communities, working together to address the problems we all face.

National Night Out helps build that dialogue, as do other community events that give the public a chance to interact with police officers in a relaxed atmosphere. Looking beyond the badge, we start to see we’re really not that different.

For those gathered at Beebe Memorial Park on Tuesday evening, the atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive. Kids played and laughed, all wearing big smiles. Adults enjoyed good company, and officers took the opportunity to let their hair down and have some fun.

America needs more National Nights Out.