HOUSTON – Hundreds of people gathered for a town hall meeting to discuss police community relations on Saturday.
The event, called a Courageous Conversation, was held at the Kingdom Builders’ Center in southeast Houston.
Members of the black community asked questions about topics like police conduct, racism, Black Lives Matter protests, and officer involved shootings.
“It’s weird that people who look like me are getting gunned down. They’re saying things to comply. For complying, you could still be shot. What are the solutions? What steps need to be taken? What about other town halls? How can we as a community bridge the gap between that and law enforcement?” said Christal-Joy Turner, a Houston resident.
A panel of law enforcement leaders answered questions throughout the meeting.
The panel included Executive Assistant Chief Michael Dirden with the Houston Police Department, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, Joe Gamaldi with the Houston Police Officers Union, and Jacob Webb with the African-American Police Officers League.
“There has always been a public perception that police officers - good police officers - stick up for bad police officers. That may have been systematic a long, long time ago, but it’s really not systematic right now,” said HPD’s Michael Dirden during the event.
“None of us want to come and take a life. We joined the police department to help folks. To get into a deeper conversation about what we talk about when we see shootings like this, anytime it's where the suspect was not complying with what the officer was telling them to do, do you know what we all end up saying? I wish he would have just complied, and none of this would have happened. That’s the truth. That’s what we talk about behind closed doors. If citizens comply with the officer, these shootings are not going to happen,” said Joe Gamaldi, HPOU.
The discussion was intended to last about an hour and a half but lasted more than four hours. Some people in the crowd left unsure that any progress was made.
“People can say they want to do certain things, but actions speak louder than words,” said Quinton Johnson.
Others felt the forum was a step in the right direction.
“I heard their heart. [The law enforcement leaders] were genuine. But I also heard from the audience. There was a lot of hurt, a lot of anger that still needs to be addressed,” said Deon Reynolds.
“[The panelists] took on some serious questions. They’re not running from them. They’re answering the questions,” said Houston City Council Member Dwight Boykins. “This is the first time we’ve had an open dialog and everything is on the table. We need to have more of that.”