Public, police attend relationship building event in Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Police and the public took part in a forum Tuesday to discuss ways they can learn from each other and strengthen community relationships.

People did not hold back.

“Cops grab ’em up, slam you all around and stuff,” one man said. “I’m not saying about all of you, but you guys know who you are.”

Several people who attended the forum at the Camp Curtin YMCA on Sixth Street spoke freely when discussing interactions with officers in front of about a dozen law enforcement in the room.

Organized by Karl Singleton, Special Advisor to Mayor Eric Papenfuse, the event was part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative started by President Obama. The focus of the forum was to engage people with police and have a better understanding of protocol and public needs.

Trust is said to be the foundation of any strong relationship. The event could have been perceived as couple’s therapy. Both sides discussed what they would like from the other in a constructive manner.

“Don’t assume that your viewpoint is exactly shared the same way by someone else,” Dwayne Crawford said. Crawford is president of NOBLE, a national law enforcement organization that facilitated the conversation.

Singleton said it is important for young African-American men in the community to see a strong African-American leader in law enforcement.

“Oftentimes we see, between the cops and communities, we see predominately black or brown community facing a predominately white law enforcement,” he said.

While adults did most of the talking, the event was geared toward youth. Zahmir Russell, an eighth grader from Middletown, said his father has been in and out of prison most of his life. Most of his interaction with law enforcement has been negative.

“I see [officers] as like, evil people,” he said. “They take away from people’s lives.”

He wasn’t the only youngster in the room to have those feelings.

Harrisburg officers conducted a traffic stop demonstration and used Russell in the role play. Officers explained the proper police protocol, how to interact with an officer, and what not to do when confronted with commands or questions believed to be unjust.

Police Chief Thomas Carter said it is important for people to know how to respond to officers, but he added that it is important that people understand the proper avenues to file complaints against an officer’s possible improper actions.

“I’m not saying all officers are always right,” Carter said, “but when you feel that they are wrong, they have supervisors. You should move to the next level.”

Carter, a lifelong Harrisburg resident, said it is especially important to educate young African-American men. He plans to hold a larger forum on Feb. 7 at Harrisburg High School.

By the end of the short event, Zahmir said the lessons would stick with him for a long time.

“[Officers are] not inhuman people…they are human,” he said. “They do have feelings and they can be hurt just like us.”

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