By DAVID SILVA
Eastfield police hosted their second annual National Night Out event Oct. 4 in an effort to connect police officers and community members.
The event included a helicopter takeoff, a dunk contest, a performance by Poteet High School’s marching band and food and activities provided by the various campus and community organizations.
Due to the current rift between police and minority groups, caused by events like the fatal shooting of five Dallas police officers and perceived racial bias in shootings by police, the event was seen as especially relevant by the community members in attendance.
“It’s really a great thing that the police department put on for the community” said event emcee Patrick Morgan of the Office of Student Engagement and Retention’s outreach and recruitment program. “You have people from all ages, from all parts of the community, having a good time.”
The Eastfield Police Department has a strong connection with its community, Lt. Jose Hernandez said.
“There has been a strong support … from faculty and staff and from the students,” he said. “We value the trust that the community puts into the [Eastfield] Police Department.”
However, some find it hard to ignore the divisive perceptions between minorities and police officers, especially with the recent spotlight on the shooting of unarmed black men.
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in July, 63 percent of Americans view race relations in the United States as “generally bad.”
The National Night Out event is a way for community members to get to know officers in situation that don’t involve a law violation or an arrest, Hernandez said.
“It’s a night where [we] invite the community into the police department to share an evening so that we can open some lines of communication with the community,” he said.
Police Chief Michael Horak has also been holding monthly Coffee with the Chief sessions in the Pit to promote interaction.
Human relations and business major Dennis Napier, a former police officer from Wichita, Kansas, said that unprosecuted shootings of unarmed black men is a problem rooted in individual biases and the lack of justice within the police system.
“These guys are cowards, and any good officer would say the same thing,” Napier said. “You don’t pull a weapon on an unarmed person. So there’s an individual who committed the wrong that’s [then] protected by the group itself. So the department, the badge itself, it falls, it loses its shine.”
Napier said that there are benefits to events like National Night Out.
However, he also said that it only represents a small amount of progress for a bigger problem.
“When it comes to events like this, then that community is probably going to have more of a positive view,” he said. “[But] these events are more so of a way to pacify the community. People come in, hug and take pictures, but that’s about as far as it goes. The officers never change.”
Napier said communities must come together to bring about justice within the police system.
“The only way that the changes will occur is when the community themselves start harmonizing together,” he said. “Not just taking actions to protest, but start exerting their economic influence and political influence to start changing the law.”
The National Night Out event is not a direct response to the apparent “us against them” mentality, Hernandez said.
“It’s a tool that is definitely available to invite the community to participate to get to know the police officers on a one-on-one basis,” he said. “This is a good tool, a good starting point, for communication.”