What if Columbus created the blueprint for reimagining community and police relations starting with the core elements of what creates community: building trust, communication and understanding?

It’s time for us to reimagine community and police relations. As a nation and a community, we have arrived at an impasse. The truth is, reimagining community and police relations involves complex concepts as old as civilization—justice, fairness, mercy, equity, safety and protecting the ability of all people to thrive. How we survive and thrive as people living together is something we have wrestled through since the beginning of time.

To reimagine requires us to erase our preconceived ideas to make space for new ones, and we are not wired as human beings to question our thoughts or judgments. In fact, our core beliefs and the experiences that shaped those beliefs are more like a stone etching than marks on a dry erase board—making it incredibly difficult to change. But what if we tried?

What if Columbus created a new paradigm for community and police relations? Not starting with policy driven by lagging statistics or compliance-driven corrective training. Rather, starting with the core elements of what creates community: building trust, communication and understanding. A study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2008 showed that, “in societies where people tend to trust each other, they have stronger democracies, richer economies, better health and they suffer less often from any number of social ills.”

This piece of thought leadership is part of 11 Moonshot Ideas to Move the Columbus Region Forward: A Future 50 project.

THE IDEAS

The need for a civic renaissance • The private sector should fight inequity • Closing the digital divide • Driving equity by funding women-owned businesses • Designing a more equitable region • Using data to guide public policy • Customer-centricity in social services • A radical recalibration of education • ISO: Ambassadors for science • Finding true work-life balance post-Covid • Reimagining community-police relations • Why we did this project

What if we offered “Community Workshops” facilitated by police officers and community leaders that focused on building trust? What if local coffee shops pledged to serve as community hubs to facilitate conversations where everyone reflects on and shares what may have shaped their perspectives? Conversations where people could create space for new perspectives.

Instead of police officers and city council members attending training that informs them of things they can’t do based on community outrage, what if community leaders and police officers, side by side, focused on what they can do to build trust, communication and understanding? What if it was their civic responsibility to facilitate at least three workshops a year within their communities?

What if community members who attended these workshops were rewarded with a T-shirt and free perks they could proudly display, showing their commitment to developing empathy and compassion in pursuit of being better neighbors?

What comes to mind when you hear “community and police relations?” Do you automatically think about both sides of the issue? Do you think about why community activists protest with such fervor and determination? Do you think about the fear police officers feel as they race to provide support during the protests?

Do you challenge yourself to imagine what might come to mind for someone with alternative or even directly opposing beliefs on this subject? As easy as it may be to dismiss ideas that differ from our own, what if we sat with those ideas a bit longer? What if we allowed ourselves to provide the space for those ideas to exist in addition to our own?

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As we look for a way forward and seek common ground on which to build a reimagined framework for community and police relations, what if the answer to righting the complicated relationship between our communities and the police who serve them isn’t as complicated as we think? What if the answer is simply allowing ourselves to enter into the pain, the struggle, the perspective and experience of our neighbors?

What if, over a cup of coffee and tea in the same space as someone else, we push pause on our own narrative, turn off the noise and enter into the life of someone who is entirely different than ourselves?

For example:

• If you believe the police department should be defunded, suspend your belief for a moment and join an officer for coffee and a ride-along.

• If you believe there isn’t systemic racism in every fabric of our society, foster a relationship with someone who does believe this and learn why they believe it.

• If you believe America was founded as a racist country, read counterarguments from scholars who think differently.

• Be curious. Ask others questions, seeking to understand rather than listening to respond with your opinion.

• Challenge yourself to ask: Have I missed something? Do they see something that I don’t? Do I have all of the information? Where might we agree? What judgments am I making without knowing? What if I had those same experience—Would my beliefs be the same?

It is important to acknowledge that having a cup of coffee and conversation with your neighbors is not a miracle cure to the deeply rooted and systemic disparities in our communities. It is merely a start. The change we need will require many community conversations, brainstorming sessions, edits and challenges along the way.

It ultimately will require us to redirect our passion and fervor toward an inclusive, intentional effort to carefully, thoughtfully and constructively build a more just and mercy-filled culture by building trust, communication and understanding with our neighbors.

This essay was informed by interviews and ride-alongs with more than 20 individuals on all sides of the issue—police officers, both Black and white; elected officials; and social justice activists. 

John Rush is a U.S. Marine and founder of CleanTurn and 180 Demo, service companies that give justice system-involved individuals a chance to build new lives. Kierra Williams is senior program talent manager, worldwide operations technology for Amazon. Her views do not represent the views of Amazon.

With contributions from Future 50 class members Molly Rampe Thomas and Katie Doellman.