Credit: Allexa Ceballos / GPB News
Faith, food, fun: Police enjoy an unconventional weekend with the community in Georgia
The second annual National Faith & Blue Weekend saw more than 200 outreach events in cities across the state of Georgia.
Faith & Blue is an initiative between law enforcement entities and faith-based organizations with a goal to improve relationships and break down biases between law enforcement professionals and the communities they serve.
Local churches across Georgia hosted a variety of events from Oct. 8 through Oct. 11, including Halloween costume drives, litter clean-ups and community-building bike rides alongside local police officers.
At 100-year-old China Grove Baptist Church in Brookhaven, a Faith and Food Trucks event brought churchgoers from several parishes together with Brookhaven police for music, food and games.
Pastor Donald Sawyer’s family has been a part of the community since 1947. He says the church has always been the background for civil rights, and supporting that pillar of the community is vital, especially in a neighborhood with shifting demographics.
“A community is a group of people that loves one another, that knows one another, that does not just go in the house and shut the door,” Sawyer said. “We want to know our neighbors so that we can become friends. We need to have more people, a different race to come out. It's not a Black thing or white thing. It's a community thing.”
Janice Duncan, another lifelong resident, also hoped this event would helped strengthen relationships among neighbors. She said law enforcement should focus more on keeping those neighbors safe.
“I think the police should be more visual than vocal to make sure that the community stays safe,” Duncan said. “And that they, you know, meet and greet the residents out here and meet and greet people that are a part of the neighborhood — not with a negative tone, but with a positive tone, making trying to make sure that everything is cohesive and everybody's trying to work together to make this a better community.”
Wildwood Baptist Church in Acworth hosted a tailgate party and chili cook-off judged by local law enforcement following the church's Sunday service.
Michael Justice works for the Cobb County Police Department and is its Community Affairs Officer. He said events like these help officers better serve community members with a rare opportunity for fun.
“Generally speaking, the community, when they have an interaction with the police department, it's usually they're having a bad day,” Justice said. “They pick up the phone, call 911, or maybe they're in traffic, and maybe they need to be reminded of one of the safety laws. And that's a shame, because there's a lot more than police department can do to serve the community. It gives us an opportunity to engage with the community in an environment other than those two environments, so people can approach us, we can talk to them and find out information about them that maybe we wouldn't have known otherwise.”
The concept of community policing has had mixed reviews, and protestors throughout the summer of 2020 have called for extreme reforms to policing. But the Rev Markel Hutchins, an Atlanta-based minister and CEO of MovementForward Inc., said the purpose of these events was to enable local communities and law enforcement groups to experience one another's humanity.
“There is a false narrative, I believe, that has permeated our discourse that somehow the majority of community members of any kind don't want good, productive, unbiased law enforcement,” he said. “That's simply not the case. This overwhelming majority of the American people want us not to demonize or bastardize law enforcement but figure out a way to collaborate and work with law enforcement to improve their industry.”
And with crime on the rise everywhere, Hutchins says, communities need to engage and collaborate with law enforcement to facilitate safer communities.
Community policing is not a perfect solution. But after a year of isolation and anger, Duncan is heartened by the opportunity to reconnect with people and police in her neighborhood.
“We’ve been so closed up, you know, it's just good to be out and be among people,” she said. “Seeing the police out here and engaging with the events like this, it's encouraging. It’s very encouraging.”