Image by: The Guardian
When Freddie Gray was fatally injured at some point during an arrest situation in Baltimore recently, citizen rage and public outcry ensued. Online videos of the incident surfaced, mobilizing local and national communities while attracting the attention of national media outlets in yet another case of community-police distrust in America. Some have characterized the entire law enforcement profession as institutionally racist and others have called ethnic communities out of control criminals—neither are true, or fair. When it comes down to it, the reaction to this case is a fundamental issue of trust and sound public safety policy.
Some members of the community often distrust the manner in which law enforcement officials police their neighborhoods and physically handle in-custody situations like Gray’s. Make no mistake about it, when officers are taking someone’s freedom who resists, it is never visually appealing, particularly for an arrestee’s family members. And, in this age of digitalization, citizen-journalists often capture the interactions on mobile devices, ensuring that the “violent, vulgar, visual and viral” wheel continues to churn, creating weeks upon weeks of public discussion and live broadcasts.
There is a very real and understandable disconnect in the release of timely information from governing and investigative bodies and how the community-at-large interprets this lack of messaging. While law enforcement tries to strike the delicate balance between forthrightness and protecting the integrity of an investigation, particularly during such high profile incidents, public trust often dwindles due to historical experiences and perceptions, coupled with a lack of substantive information. Even if investigative agencies want to release more information, there is often a significant gap in time between what investigators, crime lab personnel, analysts and medical examiners discover and the public’s demand for immediate information. The search for the truth takes time, often much more than anyone involved would like.
Trust is a two-way street—while it is imperative citizens trust law enforcement and governing bodies to enact the proper and just processes, law enforcement agencies and public officials must trust that peaceful community mobilization is healthy as the majority truly believe in why they are voicing their concerns. The concerns are real, no matter which lens one looks through. Trust comes down to being heard, validated and acted upon.
The law enforcement community embodies some of the most courageous, committed and compassionate our country has to offer, including the many diverse men and women in the Baltimore Police Department. It is important that everyone take a step back, put egos and personal agendas aside, and have meaningful, ongoing discussions that positively affect future public policy. One thing is certain, police officers and the law abiding citizens they serve need one another to effectively improve the quality of life in this country. With honest, respectful and actionable conversation, coupled with a strong commitment to trust and accountability, Baltimore can turn short-term adversity into long-term advantage while serving as a trusted model for the nation. But, it will take time.