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SALT LAKE CITY — To better understand the divide between law enforcement and communities of color, consider the experiences of transracial households in Utah, says a senior adviser to the Salt Lake City Police Department.
Utah leads the nation in transracial adoption, adviser David Parker said during the Utah Law Enforcement Multicultural Affairs meeting Tuesday at the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building.
In meeting with these families, primarily white parents who have adopted children of color, they expressed "a major concern about the safety and care of their loved ones and how the children in their home, their natural children and their adopted children are looking at the world differently and are having different experiences" with law enforcement, Parker said.
The police department is planning a barbecue with families so the children and police officers can interact in a "human kind of way" through food and games so the children can become more comfortable with law enforcement and officers can get to know the children of color as individuals, "not just a group of kids of color," he said.
Tuesday's meeting was an opportunity to discuss initiatives intended to improve community relations, such as the Salt Lake City Police Department's new commendation awarded to officers who de-escalate tense situations peacefully as well as ongoing community-building efforts on the part of law enforcement agencies along the Wasatch Front.
For all the successes, there is much work to do when even adult professionals of color experience fear and anxiety about possible encounters with law enforcement agencies, said Nickolas Gaines, a member of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commission for Human Rights.
Gaines, suicide prevention program manager for the Department of Defense, said as a professional, he felt at ease speaking at the community meeting with law enforcement officials.
"I have a very different feeling if I see one of the police officers in this room pull me over. I immediately go to thinking, 'OK, do I call my wife? Do I call my dad? Who do I call?
"Is my insurance policy in line? Should my kids know what's going on? Should I record this conversation so they know what happened? Am I going to die? Those are legitimate concerns for me as a black man in Utah getting pulled over by a police officer," he said.
Dianne McAdams-Jones, a professor of nursing at Utah Valley University, said she has instructed her children, when driving cross-country, to keep their vehicle registration and driver license in envelopes on the dashboard in the event they are pulled over by law enforcement.
"I tell them, 'Nobody cares that you're going to work on Ph.D.s or a master's degree. Nobody cares. You got a taillight out or you crossed the line. It's something. You got pulled over, and so now you've got to respond,'" she said.
McAdams-Jones said she told the story to the officers "not to make you feel guilty" but in an attempt to describe what it is like when people of color interact with law enforcement agencies.
"When you're brown, it's a whole different story and a whole different feeling when you get pulled over," she said.
McAdams-Jones, who serves on the Provo Police Department's citizens advisory board, said she has a light complexion, joined the LDS Church in Europe and has not had the same kind of experiences of many youths of color.
She generally encourages youths to reach beyond their own communities. But when a group of black youths wanted to get together at her home and mourn the slaying of Alton Sterling, a black man in Baton Rouge who was shot to death by police as he lay on the ground with two officers on top of him, she agreed but asked if Provo Police Chief John King could take part.
After some initial resistance, they agreed he could come, but only for a few minutes.
"He was there for a whole two hours," McAdams-Jones said. Now, the youths regularly attend a community event hosted by King where officers meet the community over a meal.
"These are the kinds of things we have to do," she said.
Chiefs and officers from a number of agencies noted ongoing efforts to enhance the diversity of police departments from the FBI to correctional facilities.
The latest class of Salt Lake City's law enforcement Explorer program for young men and women ages 14 to 20 was more than half female and largely youth of color, said Police Chief Mike Brown.
Adrienne Andrews, Weber State University's chief diversity officer, said she brings a unique perspective to the conversation, both as an advocate and the child of a police officer.
The conversation has largely been about finger-pointing and blame, Andrews said.
"For me, it's moving beyond blame to action," she said.
Brown said his department has engaged in an ongoing conversation with the community following an officer-involved shooting of a teenage boy near a downtown homeless shelter on Feb. 27, 2016.
Abdi Mohamed survived but is still dealing with his injuries. A review determined the shooting was justified, according to findings of an investigation released earlier this month.
Still, the dialogue between police and the community needs to continue, he said.
"This is an ongoing thing. This wasn’t a one and done," Brown said.