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Flint, MI–It started with a conversation in Whaley Park.
Joshua Bryant, 24, was talking with members of Community Roots, a community development non-profit organization, about equality, justice, and what that could look like in Flint.
He said that with “everything that has gone on in the past year with law enforcement and throughout the world…there has been a…question mark at the end of that word, justice.”
This conversation got Bryant talking with his mother on the subject, and she shared their thoughts with Sylvester Jones, Jr. of Community Roots. In light of the recent slew of violence in Flint, the group partnered with Bryant and the Flint Police Department to organize an event that would bring even more people to the conversation.
On Feb. 16, around 50 people joined a Zoom call to attend the event, “Engaging Joshua.”
Attendees on the call participated in exercises designed to spark questions and conversations between the City and the Police Department.
“Many of us believe that the justice system has bias built into it. Many of us believe that the justice system works for some and doesn’t work for others,” Jones said. “And so the conversation tonight is really around understanding, from a community perspective, what justice means and what we all hope that justice will look like in the City of Flint.”
The attendees were split off into four groups and sent into breakout rooms with a leader in each group. This was done three times, and each time the group was given a different question, and told to speak freely and share the first thoughts that came to mind.
The first question was simply, “what is justice?”
The answers revealed a common theme that participants viewed justice as a lie, or something unattainable for Black people and other people of color.
People said things like “hard to even imagine,” “deep-rooted corruption,” and “we’ve learned the facts don’t matter.” Some people said ideally, justice would be “truth,” and “peace on Earth,” but that they haven’t seen it in real life.
The second question asked for people to say what, in their opinion, they think the Flint Police Department values.
“Racial profiling,” “blind loyalty,” and “willingness to overlook bad apples,” were listed off right off the bat.
People shared personal experiences of feeling disrespected by the police, and witnessing a lack of cultural sensitivity. Aurora Sauceda, the Community Coordinator for Latinos United for Flint, said it seemed like every time a Latinx person gets pulled over, they’re asked if they’re a citizen. Many expressed that they wished to see transparency as a value.
The final prompt called on attendees to come up with their own questions they would like Police Chief Terence Green to answer at the next session. Green was not in attendance at this meeting, but that was by design. Jones said it was Green’s idea to have a first meeting to gather questions that he can respond to later.
Participants said they were curious about the police department’s mental health training, and whether or not they would ever work with social workers to respond to mental health calls. They also said they would like to know what solutions Green thinks could build trust between the community and the police.
Bryant said he would like to know what Green thinks the community can do to police themselves so police don’t always have to get involved.
Mayor Sheldon Neeley attended the meeting and said these conversations are exactly what Green needs.
“He is the right chief at this right time for us right now to make this change in which we want to see in our community, but he can’t do it alone,” Neeley said. “He needs groups like this, he needs transparency, and conversation, and dialogue. He needs the support mechanism.”
The second session will be on Feb. 23, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Registration information can be found here: