De-Escalate The Suspicion, Escalate The Trust

Police officer at sunset in New York City
Police officer at sunset in New York City

When I was a young girl, about 10 years old in 1950, I came face to face with ugly, vile, stupid and dangerous discrimination: I cheered Jackie Robinson on with all my girl power to counteract what my father said was hatred aimed at Jackie for the color of his skin.

When I was with my mother in Florida, I saw African Americans forced to sit in the back of the bus. I turned to her for an explanation.

"Segregation," she said.

Growing up in Brooklyn, this made no sense to me. My mother could have let it go. Instead, she told me to follow her to the back of the bus. Not that anyone noticed, but we knew exactly what we were doing.

The civil rights movement made enormous progress in changing our laws, but the trouble still remains in our hearts. There is still too much hatred and distrust in our communities.

Let's be clear: whether you are a police officer kissing his or her family goodbye in the morning or the parents of a young African American teenager, no one should ever have to fear that they won't see their loved ones that night.

Now is not the time to paint whole groups of people with a broad brush. That is the exact definition of prejudice!

We need a de-escalation of suspicion and an escalation of trust.

It is long past time that we stood together, united. It is long past time that we look inside our hearts, look inside our souls and banish the hatred.

We must instead embrace each other as God's creation.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr wrote,

Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.

We begin that conversation by breaking down the barriers that separate us, bridging the gap between communities and law enforcement, and establishing trust. Healing will begin in the streets - and it should. Policing should be for the community, by the community and with the community!

When I was a County Supervisor in the 1970s, there were issues between police and the community, so I recommended and my colleagues concurred in a new system of community policing. Relationships developed, and it seemed so right that I was shocked to learn that not enough communities were following this same community policing method.

Where it exists, there is cooperation and true protection of the community and it is an obvious step that should be implemented widely. There are five steps the federal government should take right away:

1. We should pass the PRIDE ACT, my legislation with Senator Cory Booker, which would require states to report to the Department of Justice (DOJ) every incident when an officer is shot by a civilian, a civilian is shot by an officer, and when the use-of-force by or against an officer results in serious bodily harm or death - so that both sides are treated fairly. It would also provide funding to states for use-of-force training for law enforcement agencies and personnel, including de-escalation and bias training, and for tip lines, hotlines and public awareness announcements to gain information regarding use-of-force against the police.

2. We should increase federal funding for DOJ's Community Policing Development (CDP) Program, which provided law enforcement agencies nationwide with only $8 million last year in federal funding to implement innovative community policing practices.

3. We should provide dedicated funding for DOJ programs to initiate formal gatherings or summits to bring community members and police into one conversation.

4. We should formally recognize and encourage police departments that epitomize what it means to be a "keeper of the peace" and establish a Community Policing Innovation Fund at DOJ to reward law enforcement agencies and localities that are doing the right thing.

5. We should address gun violence by passing legislation to keep military-style weapons off our streets, expand background checks - an idea supported by almost 90 percent of the American people and a majority of NRA members - to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, prohibit the sale or possession of high-capacity magazines, and end the ban preventing the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from researching gun violence.

My state of California just created a new research center on gun violence to better understand the impact of firearm fatalities and injuries and hopefully prevent and reduce them in the future. This must also happen at the federal level.

We need a layered defense to protect our communities from criminals and terrorists who want to inflict mass casualties, and that is what these proposals would provide.

There will always be bad people, lost people, mean people, but we cannot and must not allow them to poison our nation. Good people - and that's most of America - must join hands across every line that divides us: race, religion, color and creed.

We must call out the racists and the haters, whoever they are and wherever they are. Some may even be in elected office!

We must support those who believe in community policing and not support those who refuse to admit that there is a problem with profiling and brutality.

We must support those activists who bring us together and support steps to improve our institutions and reject those who inflame fears.

We must speak out and support those who believe that this is the United States of America, not the Divided States of America!

I know America, and I believe we will overcome.

My colleague and dear friend, Congressman John Lewis, who was beaten, bloodied and jailed while fighting for civil rights, tells this story:

I saw those signs that said 'white men,' 'colored men,' 'white women,' 'colored women,' 'white waiting,' 'colored waiting.'

I would come home and ask my mother, my father, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, 'Why?'

They would say: 'That's the way it is. Don't get in the way. Don't get in trouble.'

In 1957, I met Rosa Parks at the age of 17.

In 1958, at the age of 18, I met Martin Luther King Jr., and these two individuals inspired me to get in the way, to get in trouble.

So, I encourage you to find a way to get in the way.

You must find a way to get in trouble -- good trouble, necessary trouble.

We are blessed as this hero, John Lewis, is still a leading member of Congress. We must listen to him!

Our job is to get in the way of prejudice and hate. Our job is to move forward with respect and understanding, with tolerance and love.

Our Founding Fathers knew we were not a perfect union, but it is our job to make it more perfect. And it is truly our job, each and every one of us.

We can do it and we must do it.