BALTIMORE — Coppin State University hosted a virtual town hall meeting on Friday to discuss systemic racial injustice and police reform.
The event, titled, “Minds on Justice,” featured President of the University, Anthony L. Jenkins, Ph.D, Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, Department of Criminal Justice at CSU Chair Dr. Jacqueline Rhoden-Trader, Assistant Professor of Social Work at CSU, Melissa Buckley, Ph.D. and Coppin State student Montaze Cooper.
Commissioner Harrison spoke about how he was graduating a new class of officers and that he told them they're starting on a different side of history.
"Two weeks ago was very different. Today is very different," he said. "Things are different and people have a high expectations of police. That number one, there will be equal justice, not a different set of justice for police than for citizens."
Commissioner Harrison stated that people want police to treat them with dignity and respect while at the same time, protecting them from those who wish to do harm.
"That's a difficult challenge for policing," he said. "So the state and policing is while we must maintain public safety and keep people safe, we have to now do things very differently. Not just because people are protesting and demanding it, but it is the right thing to do. It is needed."
In terms of defunding police, Commissioner Harrison explained that it means taking money away to put into other social services that would allow police to back up a bit.
"They have to be all things to all people. And we've made that mistake along the way, because there have been this investments in so many other areas and disciplines that police being the face of government has been asked to be all things to all people," he explained. "Well, if we could make investments into some of the other disciplines, perhaps there's less police would have to do and there would be fewer encounters with police. Officers could be building better relationships because there are fewer negative encounters."
Harrison spoke about alternative police programs such as putting police with the youth more often.
"We can better understand that that's a major component of our consent decree to make sure that we retrain our officers on how to appropriately engage with the youth of our city," He explained. "How to deliver police services that are fair and equitable and how to have programmatic solutions to crime reductions that are fair and equitable, that deal with prevention and intervention and reentry and rehabilitation and all of those things."
"Law enforcement cannot be reactive," explained Dr. Jacqueline Rhoden-Trader. "Law enforcement needs to be proactive. And that proactive stance comes with seeing the community as people first and foremost, who are desirous of equitable treatment.
Dr. Rhoden-Trader said that whether or not you're a Republican, Democrat or Independent, we must come to an understanding that all human beings have the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
"They should freely be able to walk down the street and not be judged because of their hue with preconceived notion that they are a criminal," she said.
Dr. Buckley spoke on the emotional toll of this on people.
"There are countless examples of people who are in essence traumatized. That's what you're describing," she explained. "I think that in order to address this fear, first and foremost, black feelings and black voices must be legitimized and they must be valued. We cannot continue to ask black people to not be angry and to not be afraid, especially not. When we continue to see that black lives are not valued."
Commissioner Harrison responded, stating that people's concerns have to be seen legitimately.
"Police have to see that as legitimate and not just think that it's perceived, but it's actually legitimate," he explained. For many, many, many years, we taught this warrior mentality. And now we're moving into the guardian mentality."
Harrison said that its the age old question in policing, who's the better officer, the one who arrests the most people who break the law, the most criminals, or the officer who patrols knows community and prevents crime and prevents people from becoming victims.
"We're moving into an age where into the guardian mentality, where we have to be engaged with our community, but we have to get away from this macho culture, this overly aggressive, macho para militaristic culture, where we're thinking of ourselves as the enforcer only, but people have to see us as more than the enforcer. They have to see us as the guardian and an equal partner who puts in equity in the community."
Harrison said that if officers are seen in a different role, there's a different level of respect and regard for the role they play.
Dr Buckley spoke on solutions:
"What we are seeing is that this is persistence from generation to generation, we are passing on this legacy of trauma and it must stop. So in answer to what do we do? Certainly having these conversations are important," she said. "We can talk until we're blue in the face, but we do have to have some plans of action, but I don't want us to, to miss the importance of having and holding spaces for these conversations. Because as black people, we do have a lot of pent up pain. And if we are only moving forward without being able to process what we're experiencing, then we are carrying that along with us as well."
President Jenkins said in terms of Coppin State's response,
"What I want to see more of is quality police officers as opposed to quantity and then I want to see us leveraging what we know here at Coppin with regards to the criminal justice system, our sociology members and so forth, how do we then build a community that is willing to be partners with our local police departments. How do we move from this us against them mentality."
"We are committed to improving the social good within our own community, we have to be committed to making a difference and that is using our experts, our research, our campus...this conversation we're having today is one of many, this is not just a one and done. As the President...I'm committed to making sure we are better partners with our community that we can better help train our police officers, that we can walk in lockstep with our Commissioner and that we can have dialogue that even if we agree to disagree, we must never be enemies. We need them and they need us."