Two Gwinnett County officers caught on video striking a college student nearly two weeks ago have been fired. Prosecutors have indicated that possible criminal charges are pending. Rightfully so. Now what?
Wait for the next incident? Blame the victim? Condemn all cops?
Atlanta has long been at the forefront of advocacy around police accountability and other constitutional rights matters. I have personally been involved in leading some of the largest civil rights demonstrations in our city’s recent history. Something more substantive than protesting and marching is needed now. Activism has successfully brought the troubled plight of police-community relations to broad public light, but only collaborative leadership and resolute commitment from our nation’s most influential corridors can effectively address the complex quandary illustrated by the actions of these two officers. These negative exchanges between police officers and citizens terrorize our collective sense of common decency in ways that no foreign assailant ever could.
The firing and prosecution of disgraced officers is often requisite, but seldom preventative or curative. Excessive use of force must be preempted and thwarted all together. This is possible only if leaders are intentional about transforming hearts and minds in lieu of mere changes in policies and procedures. The real issue is the implicit biases, held by too many officers and citizens alike, that are deep-seated, pervasive and often harbored unwittingly. Until cops become intimately involved with the specific neighborhoods and citizens they police, such that subconscious fears and prejudices are cured on all sides, we will continue to see these disturbing incidents.
Nearly every police chief and sheriff in metro Atlanta has worked closely with me for several months on the development of the “One Congregation One Precinct” (OneCOP) initiative, a new national effort to do just that. We decided weeks ago to implement this trailblazing program in Gwinnett County first, largely because of the unique diversity of its population. We’ve sought the involvement of this region’s most powerful corporate, business, and faith leaders because law enforcement officials are, admittedly, unable to address the underlying problem by themselves.
Ironically, just days before the now infamous videoed attack, the Gwinnett police chief, sheriff, police chiefs’ association and I began inviting religious leaders of all Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other congregations in Gwinnett to meet jointly on May 11th to outline a plan to prevent this very type of disaster.
The objectives of the OneCOP initiative include: 1) Proactively create direct links between law enforcement executives and community leaders to address growing public concerns relative to policing; 2) Increase citizen engagement with patrol-level officers, via congregations, resulting in decreased bias and increased familiarity, mutual respect and trust; and, 3) Improve public safety through collaboration and information sharing to prevent, combat and solve crimes by tapping into the varied resources of faith-based institutions in every community.
Citizens of goodwill and law enforcement officers share a common goal — to keep our communities safe, especially in light of the fact that violent crime is rising. Ultimately, it is in our collective best interest to equip law enforcement professionals with the training and perspective they need to effectively police while also holding bad actors accountable when they violate the sacred trust between citizens and those sworn to protect and serve.
This comprehensive, cooperative and solution-focused approach is our only way forward.
Rev. Markel Hutchins is an Atlanta-based human- and civil-rights leader. He is chairman and CEO of MovementForward Inc.