“Unfortunately, law enforcement has kind of been involved in situations that are not appealing. There have been some unfortunate tragedies that have come out of law enforcement and things of that sort, and community engagement, now more than ever, is important because we need to be able to strengthen that relationship with the people that we serve,” Guss said. “Communities of color have always struggled with law enforcement. It’s definitely our personal mission to make sure that we can fix that gap and just get the community and law enforcement together on the same page, supporting one another and encouraging one another to be the best that we can in order to combat crime and work together as a unit.”
Unity at the Rim will begin with co-ed basketball matchups, prayer and a moderated one-hour rap session. Youth and first responders will explore such questions as how they view one another, ways of improving relationships and policing, how to handle police encounters, and building trust.
“How can we create change, and change the image that kids see when they see cops,” Hall asked, ‘and at the same time, when a police officer comes into the community, are you coming to arrest, are you coming to handcuff or are you coming to really connect and figure out what’s really going on?
“I know you guys have jobs to do,” he said of first responders, “but a lot of our kids are innocent. They’re just walking while Black and somebody called the police on them. We’re just trying to break down walls, so police understand that the community is human. We want to relate. We hope you want to relate to us as well. And together we can build some bridges where you can have a police officer pick up a basketball and shoot it, or race a kid. Just anything that will create kids feeling comfortable when policing happens in a neighborhood.
Recruiters will also be on hand to recruit youth to law enforcement. The event, supported financially by the Colorado Baptist Convention, is easily replicable in other communities, Hall believes.
In addition to Unity at the Rim, pastors have been intentionally meeting monthly, praying together and building friendships for more than a year.
Spence said the communication and new relationships, expanded his circle of friends beyond an echo chamber and diversified his friendships.
“I think one of the biggest challenges we face in this issue is one of these echo chambers. We tend to surround ourselves with people who believe like we believe, think like we believe,” Spence said. “My pastor friends are not anymore just white, or just Southern Baptist. It’s much more diverse, which helps challenge my conventional thinking on issues.”
He better understands his encounter with police of nearly 20 years ago, Spence said, despite having been in the car as his Black friend was driving.
“I had a very nice sports car. And he was driving it, and I was in the passenger seat. And we were just driving through a nice residential area and he got pulled over, and the police officer was not happy that he was in that neighborhood, driving that car,” Spence perceived. “And we asked the officer did we do anything wrong, and there was nothing. The police officer asked whose car is this, and I was just like sir it’s mine. And that’s my house right over there.
“Thankfully it wasn’t escalated, but it was very clear to us. My friend … was in a nice neighborhood and driving a very nice sports car, and the police officer felt like he shouldn’t be,” Spence recalled. “At the time, I didn’t really understand it. There wasn’t a light shined on those incidences like they are now. Even then, I didn’t know and (my friend) didn’t know – he grew up in the same neighborhood – he wasn’t aware of DWBs either.
“But as time has gone on,” Spence said, “I see what it is now. Now, I can tell what happened then. And that story has been shared over and over by friends of mine who have had that same experience.”
This article originally appeared here.