Tonight, President Obama will host a conversation about race relations, justice, policing and equality.
The goal is to bring together police officers, parents, students, and families affected by recent violence in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas in a frank yet civil dialogue.
It was much more of a public discussion than the one that the had yesterday when he spent more than four hours in a closed-door meeting with about three dozen elected officials, law enforcement representatives, and community activists.
Present at that White House meeting were police groups and activists who don't always agree with each other, but, in the end, they did agree that the meeting was productive and could eventually lead to building trust.
Among the attendees were LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Beck told the LA Times, "We didn't agree on everything ... But we all agreed that the discussion has become far too polarized, that people aren't listening to each other, people aren't showing empathy."
In LA Wednesday night, people attempted to hear each other and show such empathy.
At a conference room in Exposition Park, LAPD officers and residents gathered for an event titled, Days of Dialogue; it's part of an ongoing program organized by a group called The Institute for Non-Violence.
For next-day reflections, Take Two spoke with two guests:
- Avis Ridley-Thomas, co-director of The Institute for Non-Violence
- Bill Scott, deputy chief and commanding officer of operations at the LAPD's South Bureau
(Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.)
When and how did the Days of Dialogue program first come to be?
Avis Ridley-Thomas: Days of Dialogue started in 1995 in response to the criminal trial of OJ Simpson and the Million Man March and the environment in which we found ourselves — really a divided community. So our prophetic leaders were called together, and one of them just recommended that we just have a day of dialogue in Los Angeles. We decided a day of dialogue on race relations would be our first activity.
Avis Ridley-Thomas, you've been doing this for a while now. Over the years, what have you learned about ways in which you can best create spaces where people feel free enough to speak their minds, and yet still safe and comfortable?
What I have learned is what I have learned as a founding director of the City Attorney's Dispute Resolution Program: that when you have neutral facilitators of a conversation, a structure in place, ground rules, when you ensure that everyone's voice will be respected and heard, and you have that facilitator helping to make that happen, and each of those small groups have the opportunity to dialogue, there is always a positive evaluation of that dialogue.
Bill Scott, can you talk to me about some of the conversations that you were a part of last night?
There were a lot of questions directed to me, particularly because of my position and twenty-six years of experience with LAPD. There were a lot of questions regarding use of force, shooting of unarmed black males particularly that were directed toward me, and many of them in the context of what does or what would LAPD do in a certain situation.
The other part of it is as an African-American male; some of the questions were directed towards me as, "how do you feel as an African American male to see these incidents happening?" One of the things when you're in uniform — you have to be very careful about what you say and how you say it because you're representing — not only law enforcement — but you're representing your city and your organization. It's difficult to infuse your personal opinion into a conversation about that.
I would imagine that at some point it must be so hard that you have to let down some of that guard to answer somewhat personally. Is that even possible?
Bill Scott: It is possible, and this is the beauty of last night's event and this type of event. I'm gonna use Mayor Garcetti's words because I sat in a meeting with him the other day and one of his goals was to create safe places and safe spaces to have those conversations. And what I think that means is give the law enforcement officers a place to have dialogue as well, because often, you don't feel safe in having those type of really deep conversations. Last night's event — at least for me — I felt safe in having that kind of conversation, and that was — believe it or not — an empowering feeling for me.
Press the blue play button above to hear the full interview.