For black families across the nation, conversations about how to survive interactions with law enforcement happen on a regular basis.
As part of its larger project, “The Talk,” the Austin American-Statesman and KLRU hosted a community forum with the Austin Police Department, city officials and other community activists Tuesday night to talk about how Austin fits into the national dialogue surrounding police relations.
“We have to reconcile with the fact that black people have a raw deal here in America,” said Meme Styles, who runs the data-driven community organization Measure Austin. “The truth of the matter is that it comes from a system of racism that has never been dealt with.”
The panel was held on what would have been the 18th birthday of David Joseph, a naked, unarmed teen who was killed by an APD officer last February. His family attended the panel.
“I want everyone in the black community to stand up with me about what happened with my son,” David Joseph’s mother Ketty Sully said through tears. “I hope policemen do better to make our children safe.”
Panelists addressed the idea that conversations regarding police relations vastly differ between black and white families.
“I have an 18-year-old, and we have “the talk” almost every week,” said Kazique Prince, senior policy advisor and African-American community liaison in Mayor Steve Adler’s office. “That’s the privilege, not knowing these conversations take place on a daily basis among black families. It’s a conscious conversation.”
To address the disconnect between African-Americans and law enforcement, APD Interim Chief Brian Manley said APD has shifted its recruiting efforts to focus less on stereotypical aspects of the job. “If you would have gone to our website two months ago, you would have seen a video with SWAT teams and helicopters, all the exciting stuff that’s just a moment in a police officer’s life,” Manley said. “The people we are recruiting need to know that if they’re doing it right, they are focused on day-to-day service.”
Joe Stinson, a retired APD officer who educates African-American youths on behaving around police, said he teaches youths to comply with police and address racially motivated incidents after the fact. “Even if you believe strongly the situation or the stop was racially motivated, there in the field at that time is not the time to deal with that,” Stinson said. “Comply, do what you need to do, get home — and then follow up on the situation (through APD).” David Joseph’s brother, however, disagreed.
“If I have to act a certain way for cops to feel safe, how do I feel safe?” Fally Joseph said. “I wear ripped clothes, a gold chain and maybe talk with some slang. If I have to change all of that to feel safe, that’s not okay.”
While there are no easy solutions, panelists highlighted the white community can play an important role in advocating for African-Americans.
“Advocate for us at City Hall, at the Capitol, take video evidence when cops are pulling over black people,” said Chas Moore of the Austin Justice Coalition, a grassroots activist organization. “We need you to be our shield. We are in crisis mode and at the tipping point of America’s moral scale. If we don’t address it, we’re going to be in a bad place.”