Madison forum offers hope for keeping peace

COMMUNITY LEADERS AND POLICE gathered in Madison on Thursday with dozens of young people, most of them black.

They had a frank and instructive discussion about race, law enforcement and what to do if you’re stopped by police. Just as importantly, they talked about what not to do.

The goal of the forum at the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, in the words of one participant, was to help young people be cautious when interacting with police and “get home safely,’’ which everyone who participated presumably did.

That wasn’t true in Dallas, just hours later, where sniper fire killed five police officers and injured seven more who were monitoring an otherwise peaceful protest.

That wasn’t true in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, where a police officer Wednesday shot Philando Castile multiple times as he sat in his car during a traffic stop. The medical examiner has ruled the police shooting a homicide.

That wasn’t true in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when an officer Tuesday shot and killed Alton Sterling after tackling and pinning him to the ground, as a cellphone video showed.

Outraged by those shootings of black men by white officers, the group Black Lives Matter had organized Thursday’s protest in Dallas, which turned violent when a sniper, who was black, opened fired on police.

The carnage last week across the nation was shocking and must end.

Investigators are still sorting out what happened. More elusive may be a solution to America’s rash of racially charged violence.

But hope can be found in Thursday’s forum in Madison, where citizens who view police with suspicion met with officers who seek trust and with community leaders who want the city’s young people to be safe.

Madison is by no means immune to controversy over police tactics, including the aggressive arrest of Genele Laird outside East Towne Mall three weeks ago.

Citizens who are skeptical of police saw a cellphone video of two white officers needlessly tackling and repeatedly kneeing and zapping with a Taser a young black woman. Citizens who stress respect for law enforcement viewed the same video as officers responsibly trying to control a young person accused of flashing a knife, threatening harm to mall employees and kicking, scratching and spitting at police.

Thursday’s forum tried to bridge that gap, or at least begin to foster more common understanding. The conversation wasn’t easy at times. Yet wisdom seemed to win out.

The Rev. Harold Rayford and others urged the young people not to argue with police or resist arrest — even if they believe they’re innocent. Leaders also advised young people to keep their hands in plain sight and to avoid sudden movements.

“These rules don’t make you weak,” Rayford said. “They make you strong. They make you smart. They make you a leader.”

He’s right. Both sides of any police encounter must be part of the solution. — Wisconsin State Journal, July 11

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