On March 4, the Salt Lake City Police Department hosted a second night (in a series of three) of community dialogues centered around the use of deadly force. As a follow-up to the more raucous Feb. 25 “Fair and Equal Treatment" event, the evening forum, taking place at Lincoln Elementary School, focused on police training curriculum and drew fewer prominent officials. As a lower-profile gathering, it was more effective in encouraging productive, thoughtful discourse among concerned citizens.
The forum began in much the same way as the previous week's session: The police department pedantically jockeyed the podium, boasting procedural ‘improvements’ and touting Salt Lake City’s comparatively low police shooting rates. Because Salt Lake City has an "innovative" police training program "copied around the world," they seemed to be saying we don’t need to be in a rush to improve police training because it’s so darned good already.
After police finished their procedural dog-and-pony show, it was time for community feedback. The audience was split into two separate groups and provided with a moderator and a police officer. Then the magic began.
The groups, which included a fair number of family members of police shooting victims, shared their stories along with their grievances, all of which were thoughtfully and sympathetically received by the officers. Yes, there were still upset citizens who only seemed to care about abolishing government, but their frivolous quips were outweighed by the mountain of feeling from fellow citizens and police alike. It was a genuinely moving, human moment: the police commendably made themselves available to hear what the victims’ loved ones (incredibly) bravely shared.
It's food for thought: Perhaps instead of using the forums to impress citizens with talk of potential reforms, police should use the opportunity to invite citizens to grieve and tell their stories. This format would be more therapeutic for the community, and would certainly send a more sobering message to police about the consequences of the use of deadly force.
Toward the end of the feedback session, the officer present extended an apology to those affected by the shootings. One mother of a recently slain boy responded: “This is the first time I’ve heard that.”
The third and final dialogue, “Know Your Rights,” offers hope for more community connection and reconciliation on March 18 at 6 p.m. at the Sorenson Unity Center (1383 S. 900 West).