Police, community leaders discuss race and religion

Community leaders from the mayor of Phoenix to the Peoria chief of police met Tuesday at First Congregational UCC to discuss race relations in Phoenix and beyond. (Nikole Tower/DD)

People of color shouldn’t be the only ones “ringing the alarm bells saying things need to change” when it comes to racism and police community relations, Arizona Faith Network director Rev. Erin Tamayo said at a panel discussion Tuesday.

A group of churches and religious groups including the Arizona Faith Network hosted the event, featuring local civic and community leaders at the First Congregational United Church of Christ on Second and Willetta streets, about what Phoenix is doing now to fix racism and white fragility and the church’s role after the presidential election.

In addition to Tamayo, the panel included Mayor Greg Stanton, Pastor Warren Stewart Jr., Executive Director of Arizona Commission on African-American Affairs Cloves Campbell Jr. and Peoria Police Commander Bruce Walls.

“I’m here because this conversation has continued into my generation and my children’s generation,” Stewart said. “It is important to not just have the rhetoric, but to bring reform.”

While people of various races participated in the town hall event, the night focused heavily on racism toward the African-American community. From police brutality to unequal salaries, nothing was off the table. More than anything, the panelists came prepared with ideas on how to help the future.

“How do you fix implicit bias?” Minter said. “You talk, you share. We have to go out of our comfort zones and help people understand.”

Minter carefully explained the process of becoming an officer in Peoria. He told the audience to see him and not his badge, something he said does not happen often.

A theme in the discussion was the intersection of race and religion.

“We all have a role in this,” Tamayo said. “We (as white people) have put the burden of dismantling racism on our brothers and sisters of color for way too long … It takes all of our voices to change.”

Stanton was present to listen to the requests of the people there, as well as talk about what Phoenix has done to address the problem. He said his purpose there was to “listen with an open heart and open mind.”

Stanton emphasized the work being done to build community trust and have a police department that reflects the diversity of the city. As a way to aid the large minority population in South Phoenix, Stanton said that there are plans to extend the light rail to the area while still keeping minority-run businesses strong.

With the Presidential election less than a week away, the panel was asked what they planned to do in the aftermath. In the beginning of the discussion, Campbell gave a list of the slurs and racist remarks made recently by politicians. Campbell said the election has polarized people, making some more extreme in their views and others more hesitant. Stewart had a quick solution for someone unsatisfied with his or her government.

“Vote people out if they support the system (systemic racism),” Stewart said. “Politicians are here to serve us.”

The panel left the audience with some parting advice. They suggested building coalitions, learning about the local police department by visiting it, reading various publications to expand one’s worldview and staying educated.

Corrections: November 2, 2016

Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misattributed Commander Walls’ comments to Peoria Chief of Police Roy Minter. Minter was not present at the event, and the story has been updated to reflect Walls’ comments.

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misidentified Arizona Town Hall as the sponsor of the event. While the event was promoted as an Arizona Townhall, the nonprofit Arizona Town Hall was not involved with the event. The story has been updated to reflect this.

Contact the reporter at ntower@asu.edu.