Group discusses resident/police relations and making it home safely

Fruitvale Station
Fruitvale Station

The Dallas Examiner

Police brutality is an ongoing social topic that hits close to home, especially for local residents who have lost loved ones during an altercation with a police officer. To help bring the community together to discuss these issues, Paul Quinn College hosted a “Make It Home Safely” panel discussion to bring awareness and help residents build a better relationship with local law enforcement.

The event’s discussion primarily focused on camera footage from the 2009 murder of Oscar Grant, a young Oakland father fatally shot by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer, and a short clip from 2013 film Fruitvale Station, which is based on Grant’s last day leading up to his death.

After watching the footage, the discussion was open to the five panelists to give their opinions. Dallas police officer Terrence Hopkins said that while the officer in the clip was wrong for how he went about the situation, it’s difficult to assess how these officers felt during the arrest.

“I see issues where both sides could’ve did things differently in de-escalating that situation,” he said. “It’s very difficult to tell people how they perceive danger.”

Dallas police field trainer John Paige said the footage was disturbing and agreed with Hopkins regarding how police officers are trained to emotionally handle dangerous situations.

“We have to teach people how to survive, and that’s a hard job,” he said.

Aside from the officers’ input, the audience was able to hear from everyday residents like them. Donna Jones, a local mother, expressed that the footage scared her and made her think about her son dealing with those situations in the future.

“I wouldn’t want to see my child done like that, even if he was acting in an inappropriate manner that he wasn’t taught,” she said.

Event moderator Cheryl Smith asked Jones about her personal feelings toward police officers.

“I fear police officers,” she responded. “I think it’s from what my mom instilled in me, and I might have been taught the wrong way. [However,] I also teach my children that way. If you don’t do anything wrong, you won’t have anything to go to jail for.”

After Jones’ input, Cameron Hutchins, Paul Quinn student and panelist, told the audience that the Fruitvale Station movie clip made him nervous because the same situation could possibly happen to him.

When he was growing up, Hutchins recounted when law enforcement would come to his school, speak with the students, and know them on a first name basis. Now, he sees a totally different scenario. The college student said that he has experienced wrongful treatment from officers and has been detained for situations that didn’t involve him.

Although officers have their part in these hostile circumstances, Hutchins said that everyone has their part in making the situation better.

“It’s too many people trying to pull out their phones and capture the situation moment rather than try to help it,” he explained. “We all have a joint responsibility to play our role.”

Following Hutchins, Hopkins added that the way detainees and officers communicate can also affect how the arrest is going to go.

“If someone is pointing a gun at me, I can’t give them a peace talk at that time,” he said. “You have to, sometimes, match degrees of escalation to bring that person back down. There are ways that you can speak to people that are either going to escalate or de-escalate the situation. It’s about respect.”

After the panelists gave their reviews, the event came to a halt after a domestic violence situation took place in front of the venue. Hopkins, Paige and their trainee went directly to the scene and assessed what was going on.

Audience members watched as law enforcement separated the young man and woman to keep them from hitting each other. During the brief investigation, no excessive force was used, and no arrest was made.

Once the situation was over, the panel discussion continued. While the panelists and attendees were able to joke about the impromptu domestic violence scenario, one audience member wasn’t happy about it.

Iden, a 25-year-old Paul Quinn student, experienced the after effects of police brutality after her father was fatally shot by law enforcement when she was younger. She expressed to the panelists that the jokes about the possibility of the earlier situation ending in gun violence was insensitive to people like her who are a victims of police brutality.

Hopkins apologized to her and said that while he did say it in a joking manner, there was a possibility that it could have escalated if certain things occurred.

Shortly after, the audience participated in a Q&A session with the panelists. Sharon Patterson, a local pastor, asked the officers how they determined what is threatening behavior at their department.

Hopkins said that many variables affect how a single officer determines what is threatening. 911 calls and descriptions play a huge role in how they approach the scenes as well as the levels of fear an officer has.

“We often go into the unknown with very little fact,” he explained. “There are some people who have been scared since day one that don’t know how to handle things, [and] shouldn’t be there in the first place. The police department tries to do the best it can when screening individuals, but it’s not exactly foolproof.”

Hutchins’ mother inquired about the officers’ training and whether their trainees undergo psychological evaluations before becoming officers.

Paige said trainees participate in a 40-hour training cycle with various classes, including a course that teaches them how to survive a tragic incident. Trainees also undergo psychological exams and are pulled out by care teams to receive help if they show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Finally, a South Dallas mother questioned the officers about their colleagues’ aggressive approach in her neighborhood. Hopkins informed her that the next time she encounters an overly aggressive officer in the Dixon Circle neighborhood to get the officer’s name and badge number or call a supervisor from the department to the scene to reprimand the officer and start an investigation.

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