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Public And Police Try To Talk Through A Vexing Question

Tom Bullock

Monday night about 100 people gathered in a room to talk. Some were members of the public, others uniformed members of the CMPD.

The event was put on by the city of Charlotte to address a vexing question: how to build public trust in police?

This chat came with an admittedly clunky title ‘Can We Talk? About the City Council response to the events of September 2016.'

Those events? The killing of Keith Lamont Scott and the protests that followed.

And the format was simple, people sat in small groups, at least one police officer in each. Everyone was to answer four questions. Like what is one emotion, concern or issue that was significant to you during all that happened in September.

Each group was diverse, men and women, African-American and white. Young and old. One member of the public talked of  "the repetitiveness of people dying got you tired. It wasn’t just that it happened in Charlotte."

One police officer talked about what it was like standing at the Omni Hotel in riot gear. She said it was hard listening to the heartbreak and anger in the crowd. As was the fact she couldn’t stop to talk to protestors.

For 45 minutes these kinds of conversations went on. All the while volunteer scribes took notes that were scooped up at the end by city staff. But before they left some groups volunteered to share what they talked about. Some had a hopeful tone.

"We all want to know that you see me, that I’m important to you, that we have worth and that we matter. I matter, you matter, and what can we do when we leave here to help someone else know that they matter too."

Others were far more exasperated.

"Basically we’re pretty much tired of having the same discussion without action. We want everybody to be transparent, honest, let's get to the root of all the issues we have and come up with a solution."

Another was still riled up.

"I’m really angry at city council and at CMPD. City council is showing that they want to work and listen to cops more than they want to listen to us as a community, as a people. Mayor Roberts you should resign, you have not been here for the people at all."

Mayor Jennifer Roberts was in attendance, sitting with a group that did not share their overall thoughts. Though she did share what she learned afterwards. "Well, I learned that there are a lot of different perspectives on what happened in September and why. And there’s a lot of energy around how do we help Charlotte move forward."

But that’s the hard part. Yes, this event showed some people are willing to talk. But talk only goes so far. What really matters is how city council uses these kinds of sessions to figure out how to rebuild public trust in police.

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.