Looking at local race relations

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Latest: 10:30 pm, 9/29/16, Thursday 

CHAMPAIGN –Thursday was the kickoff of the regional neighborhood network conference, but it was also the continuation of a very important discussion in the community.

People came from five different states for the conference, but they also became a part of a forum on race relations, specifically between the community and law enforcement.
 
The conference room in the Hilton Garden Inn was deemed a safe place where people could share their thoughts without fear of judgment.
 
Sharon Cooper is serving in a role she never wanted to be in, but after losing her sister Sandra Bland last year, she became a community advocate for her cause.
 
“I am here today because I am extremely passionate about criminal justice reform, not just because of what’s going on in today’s society, with the heightened racial tension, specifically with the issue of police brutality, but more so very concerned about what happens in custodial care as well,” said Cooper.
 
That’s where Bland died.
 
Cooper said what began as a routine traffic stop became a brutal exchange, and ended in her sister’s alleged suicide.
 
It’s a burden Cooper will carry the rest of her life, but a message people like Don Reps came out to hear.
 
“Some things aren’t being brought out. Not that I can solve the problem, but I just wanted to hear it. I wouldn’t think that I’d be able to complain if I didn’t hear what was going on, and I’ll be very interested in what goes on tonight,” Reps.
 
He was a police officer for 19 years.
 
Growing up, he had always looked up to them.
 
Now, he’s worried police officers aren’t being seen as the role models he always thought they were.
 
“Everybody’s being stereotyped, and I mean everyone, until you really find out what’s going on. But people are scared right now with all the violence. They don’t want to get involved,” said Reps.
 
But when people don’t talk about it…
 
“It exacerbates the problem,” said Cooper. “It’s very similar to the old adage of “Oh I’m colorblind, I don’t see color.” the problem with that is it actually puts you in a position where you’re devoid of the capability to actually acknowledge some of the things that are going on.”
 
That’s why the conversation began, and that’s why people like Cooper and Reps will likely continue it in the future.
 
The forum was a combination of talks, stories, videos and back and forth discussion…all to advance a conversation on race relations that people say has been needed for a while.

Update: 3:30 pm, 9/29/16, Thursday 

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY — Race relations between police departments and communities can be a heated topic.

Wednesday night, a conversation was started about how it’s impacting our community. An officer going through the race and policing class at UI shared what he learned.

Jesse Marsh has since graduated from the academy. Now, he’s continuing his training in the field. He says the information he learned had a huge impact on how he’ll approach policing in different communities.

The sooner officers can get this type of training, the better. He says avoiding conversations about race relations is what’s causing problems.

If both officers and communities establish a way to openly talk about it, solutions to racial tensions may follow. 

Original: 4:00 pm, 9/27/16, Tuesday

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY — Race and policing are hot button issues on the minds of many.

Wednesday, we’ll take a look at a class inside the Police Training Institute as officers tackle personal biases and how they affect decision-making.

There’s also a panel discussion with area leaders, law enforcement, the Champaign County State’s Attorney, professors and doctoral students from UI. You can get involved.

Thursday, at 7:30 pm, at the Hilton Garden Inn, there’s a panel discussion where there will be more details about the training officers receive. Also, hear from the sister of Sandra Bland, the Chicago-native who died while in police custody in Texas.

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