Speakers: Here's how to build trust between police, public

Protests in Milwaukee
Police move in on a group of protesters throwing rocks at them in Milwaukee, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016.
Jeffrey Phelps | AP 2016

Recurring instances of violence in the Twin Cities and nationally have eroded communication and trust between police and the communities of color they serve.

Recently, in an event organized by MPR's "The Human Potential" series, four guests with varying perspectives on the relationship gathered in St. Paul to talk about and answer questions about the divide between communities of color and the police, and how we might bridge the gap.

MPR News reporter Brandt Williams moderated the event.

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Experiencing trauma

During the conversation Cathy Spann, executive director of the Jordan Area Community Council, explained how being stopped by an officer for seemingly no reason other than your race can cause lasting damage to a person's psyche.

"We are traumatized, we are secondary victims, primary victims of violence. And when I say that it is an issue of public health, it affects us in every core of your body," said Spann. "You experience trauma that is not easy to heal from."

To make officers understand that many of the people they deal with may suffer from these negative experiences, Minneapolis police chief Janee Harteau said it comes down to respect.

"One of the primary tenets of procedural justice is ensuring that everybody has a voice," Harteau said. "It really is about communication; it's about making sure that you have that conversation."

While officers can't know everyone's experiences, they can still be respectful, she added.

While Spann doesn't know what kind of training Harteau's officers receive, she said that a change in the police mindset is paramount, because race is a factor in all interactions, regardless of what people might like to think.

Taking responsibility

To improve relationships, officers also need to be willing to call out and take responsibility for the officers who do discriminate against certain communities, said NAACP president Jason Sole.

"I always say don't act like you don't have a ton of bad officers," Sole said. "Own up and say, 'Hey, this guy is racist. This guy is Islamophobic. This guy is sexist.' Clean up your stuff."

But for some police departments there isn't a system of accountability, said district judge Mark Kappelhoff. While working in Ferguson, Mo., he witnessed a culture of discrimination that was allowed to thrive, and in some cases, was rewarded.

"You need a strong layer of supervisors there who will hold the line officers accountable when they engage in misconduct," he said.

To listen to more from their discussion, click the audio player above.

Further reading

• History: Jamar Clark shooting, protests continue strained history between community, police

• NewsCut: Why change in police relationship with communities of color isn't happening

More from MPR News Presents

MPR News presents offers speeches, documentaries and debates — airing weekdays from noon to 1 p.m.