GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) — Some people shy away from talking about race relations while others get worked up over it, but today Green Bay Police and students at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College faced the subject head on.
Amid tensions across the United States between officers and community members everyone had a place at the table Thursday morning.
They talked about race, trust, and how both sides can co-exist. There were no walls, no barriers – just honest talk.
“Whether you’re black, white, or whatever, I’m just going to be a little bit on edge,” one Green Bay officer told a group of students when describing approaching someone who seems nervous being in the presence of the police or seems to be hiding something.
Some would argue Thursday’s discussion is what open dialogue looks like – real people talking about real life, about racism, about biases, about fears, and for some, hope.
“Keep in mind that we’re here to have a conversation,” N.W.T.C. Director of Diversity and Inclusion Mohammed Bey told the group. “We’re not here to attack each other.”
Green Bay Police meet with the students as equals, not authorities.
“I just wanted to see their viewpoints that the officers have about everything — just discuss them respectfully over the table,” said nursing student Hakeem Fernandez. “I have my own opinions and experiences so it’s a nice conversation to have.”
If history has taught us anything it’s that it’s not easy getting everyone to think about the other perspective, but this group was willing to try.
“I want our officers to feel comfortable dealing with everybody in our community so they don’t come across with that edge, so they don’t have any animosity between the two of them,” said Chief Andrew Smith of the Green Bay Police Department.
Bey says it is a two-way street.
“I think so often we see the uniform and we stop and we pause where at the end of the day – once you get past the uniform, you get past the gun, past the bulletproof vest – they’re just a man or a woman doing their job,” he says.
Chief Smith understands that and hopes the students and the rest of the public that do, too.
“That communication, that partnership, is what keeps a city like green bay safe and helps us work through any problems we might have in the future,” Chief Smith said.