Statements like “the badge creates the bias” or “the mark of mental illness announces their dehumanization” were expressed when people shared their personal stories about policing at the third annual Los Angeles Trust Talks.
Delonte Gholston and other members of the Downtown Clergy Council came together to discuss the issue of trust between the community and the police. With the visible deterioration of trust, the Clergy Council was afraid that it was only a matter of time before this vital relationship would be permanently damaged.
Something had to be done, but Gholston was not set on a march or social campaign. Community and religious leader Cecil Murray told Gholston that he could always organize a march or maintain a social media campaign platform. But what the city needed was an organized gathering that would allow people of different viewpoints to come together to understand each other with the clergy present.
From that conversation, the Trust Talks emerged to provide a forum for people from various backgrounds to not only share their stories about policing, mental health and race relations in Los Angeles, but also to offer solutions for restoring the trust between the community and the police.
On the morning of Feb. 27, a candle was lit at the beginning of the ceremony in remembrance of fellow members of the community who lost their lives to police violence and the police who lost their lives on the streets of L.A. The candle continued to burn throughout the day symbolizing the unification of those fallen.
No one person talked at the crowd with a microphone, rather, everyone got a chance with adequate time to share. In about 10 to 12 roundtable settings with eight to 15 members of the community per group, business owners, faith leaders, activists, Skid Row residents, supportive housing residents, young professionals, loft dwellers (people living above Skid Row) and students from USC, UCLA and APU met. The only similarity between these groups was that they call L.A. home.
Kate Kimanzi, program coordinator of Global Studies Term and L.A. Term, a semester-long study away program that focuses on social change and social justice, also attended. Kimanzi thought the Trust Talks would be a perfect fit under the umbrella of Community Transformation, a semester-long course that helps students digest the buffet of social issues throughout the entire semester. So she contacted with longtime friend Gholston.
“I didn’t think that we would be included in the discussion, so I asked how student[s] can be around it, and he said no, you are going to be in it,” Kimanzi said.
While seated at her trust table, she noticed that the two police officers in her group had empty seats on either side of them.
Sadia Sampson, senior global studies major, recalls a homeless person in her group call the police his enemy and another homeless person say that the only reason he was there was to see the police through the eyes of Jesus. As the day went on, more truths were exposed, and more stories were shared.
Junior global studies major Sophia Nalty’s said that a few members in her group “don’t know how to react in any other way besides fear and discomfort when it relates to the homeless,” which is a truth and “reality for many.”
Members of LAPD also shared their experiences of being racially profiled by police when they were off duty, in public and without their uniforms.
Business owners said that they just want to run their business without having a lot of break ins.
“What they want is for people to get treatment. They don’t want people to be criminalized, but some of them feel that they don’t have any other options but to call the police, because they’re aren’t many services to help people who are experiencing mental illness,” Gholston said.
Kimanzi remembered that while stories were being shared, the empty chairs beside the police officers at the beginning of the event were filled as their personal narratives allowed others to see their humanity.
The event lifted layers of anger and misconceptions throughout the hours.
“I[t] was really great to see that balance of appreciation and brokenness of anger. It was a unique spot to be in, observing that connection,” Sampson said.
Gholston and his team of recorders and ethnographic researchers will review the conversations and identify the themes of issues from each and every talk so solutions can be integrated into the next Trust Talk on June 25.
“Even though the Trust Talks may end on a particular date, we stay at the table and we stay in relationships, and we stay listening to those stories and hearing people[‘s] heart…to bring justice, to bring Shalom,” Gholston said.
On April 26, The Last Bookstore will host an open Trust Talks forum for the public.