By Lydia Heggem, Staff Writer
Thursday, Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. in Wilden Lecture Hall, the Black Student Association held its third session of the series “Building Bridges.”
“The goal of this is to have a conversation with the police here so that we learn how to be comfortable with our own community here,” said Danielle Harris, BSA co-president, before the meeting. “It’s called ‘Building Bridges’ because we want to build bridges with the police force here. We want to know that we can trust them and we want them to know that they can trust us. So, the point is to humanize both sides because when you profile someone you’re not looking at them as a human.”
Harris, the initiator of the series, hopes that having a discussion with police officers about racial profiling will help both law enforcement and the African-American community understand each other’s beliefs and learn how to take steps to move forward together.
The BSA leader went on to say that it is not only important to try to build bridges, but also to understand individuals’ rights and the laws and policies that pertain to racial profiling.
“That’s the main objective is to humanize both sides, and be able to hear both sides and see where both perspectives are coming from, and to also learn about laws and policies and what police officers are actually trained to do because I can read as many articles as I want to, but it’s better to go to the source,” Harris said.
Harris believes the most effective way of doing this is by talking to Azusa police officers directly. The BSA meeting on Thursday had a panel with members from law enforcement who answered various questions from group members and other individuals from the APU community.
The panel consisted of Department of Campus Safety Chief Terry Meyer, Lieutenant of Operations of Campus Safety Jeff Joseph, Azusa Police Lt. Paul Dennis and Associate Vice President of Student Life Willie Hamlett.
Many APU faculty and administrative members came to this event, such as President Jon Wallace, Executive Director of Multi-Ethnic Programs Ed Barron, Associate Dean of Students Shino Simons and Lead Campus Pastor Woody Morwood.
One of the main concerns brought up during the meeting was whether police officers racially profile people. Dennis said that there is a distinction between criminal profiling and racial profiling and that police officers are not permitted to racially profile people.
“Profiling and racial profiling – two different things. There’s policies that govern conduct behavior … and racial profiling is an absolute no-no,” Dennis said. “It’s something that law enforcement receives training in and they’re not to do and it’s codified, certainly in department policy and in federal law. Now, I’m not going to sit up here in front of you and tell you that racial profiling has not occurred, does not occur. Do I think it’s a prevalent, major issue within law enforcement? Absolutely not, and I’m confident about that.”
Meyer said that the Department of Campus Safety also has an internal program of diversity and cultural awareness training. He said that during his time in campus safety he has not heard of any complaints about the department racially profiling people. If there ever were an incident, he said, “One thing for sure, it won’t be tolerated on campus.”
After the meeting, senior biblical studies major Norris Spagner, co-president of BSA, expressed his feelings about the event.
“I wasn’t looking forward to this event because my personal perspective and my experience with the police hasn’t been good. But I see the importance of this conversation, and I’m happy by the way it turned out,” Spagner said.
Spagner said he appreciated that the members of the panel pointed out that some police departments and their agencies function slightly different from one another. Spagner, by the end of the meeting, said he was able to recognize that not all police are the same and that there are some good officers out there.
“It’s really hard for me to come to that conclusion, though, when where I come from I’ve seen nothing but bad police officers, but I think that it is important for me to just realize that I can’t cast all the police officers under that light,” Spagner said. “That’s still challenging and hard to do, but I think that that’s the starting point for me. God is definitely working with me on that, and I see the importance of that by having these conversations.”
While wrestling to try to understand one another, Harris notes that both parties do not have to necessarily agree.
“I don’t know if we’ll come to agreements in what we believe, but at least listen to why we believe the way we believe and hear each other’s experiences, and then hopefully continue to build bridges and move forward,” Harris said.