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Trying to bridge the trust gap between black men and police, prosecutors

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Protests outside the governor's mansion
Protesters and police faced off on Summit Avenue near the governor's residence in St. Paul earlier this summer, following the police shooting of Philando Castile. The Castile shooting increased some community members' distrust of the police.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News | File

From MPR News host Tom Weber:

After the shooting death of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police last year, and the shooting death of Philando Castile by St. Anthony police this summer, we keep hearing one thing from listeners: We need to talk about this. And we have, from many different angles, but — and this is something I always think about — were we putting the right guests on the air?

One thing we've never done is paired an officer or prosecutor with a black man from the community at large, just to talk. So we invited Blair Anderson, the chief of police in St. Cloud, and Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County Attorney, to speak with three young men who are clients of Ujaama Place.

The mission of Ujaama Place is to "empower young black men, age 18 to 30, to change their behavior through redefining their concepts of themselves, manhood, success and positive community values." Some of their clients have been affiliated with gangs, or have spent time in a juvenile detention facility, and they're looking to turn their lives around.  Each of the men we invited to speak had personal experiences that had led them to distrust the police, so, I wondered: Is there any way we can break this barrier?

The men from Ujaama Place are Roy McCalem, also known as Savitty, Richard White and Zion Grae-El. I sat with them, along with Anderson and Freeman, in a big circle in a studio at MPR.

You can listen to their conversation above.

I didn't feel we were in a great place at the end. I'm not sure any barriers came down. I'm not sure anyone felt any better. There were glimpses of acknowledging each other's views and starting to talk about ways to make things better. But the history of all that's happened to get us here kept coming up, almost shutting off any debate.

In public radio, we like to wrap up interviews with a nice bow at the end. There were no bows that day. But I want to hear from you. How do we achieve a breakthrough? How do we restore trust? Send me your thoughts: tweber@mpr.org or @webertom1.