Teaming to build a lasting trust
Call them the odd couple. We’re talking about Sgt. Wayne Vincent, president of the Austin Police Association, and Austin businessman Nelson Linder, president of the Austin NAACP. The two are going on tour to promote better relations between minorities and Austin officers. That is a tall, but very needed, order, and we congratulate them for taking a big step to thaw the icy relations that have divided the community.
The pair certainly disagrees about a proposed $750,000 settlement the city would pay to the family of an 18-year-old — Nathaniel Sanders II — who was fatally shot by Austin senior officer Leonardo Quintana last year. Linder supports the settlement as a way to help the Sanders family heal and spare the community a difficult and wrenching trial that is sure to stoke divisions between police and East Austin’s minority communities. Vincent opposes the settlement because, as he has advised Austin City Council members, it would leave a wrong and lasting impression that the shooting was unjustified, and that would undermine officers.
The amazing thing is that despite that key disagreement, Vincent and Linder agree that they can forge a new pathway in mending relations between officers and minorities. And they are going on tour to promote direct talks, joint activities and meet-and-greet events that bring together the rank-and-file officers with African American and Latino youths and adults.
It’s a courageous move that holds great potential. It could build a lasting trust that helps solve crimes, educates officers and minorities about one another and steers more Austin residents into policing as a profession.
Linder wants to talk about improving policies and practices in a way that deescalates critical incidents while safeguarding officers. That is fine. Vincent wants to talk about the right way for people to comply with police officers’ commands during an arrest or stop. That is fine.
And both want frank discussions about why officers fear minorities and minorities fear officers. That is a good place to start, because fear no doubt is at the root of many incidents that end tragically.
Some people have been shot or injured by police as they fled from or struggled with police. Some were unarmed. Vincent and Linder might be the best people to relay the message that fighting an officer is unacceptable; shooting an unarmed fleeing suspect who poses little or no threat also is unacceptable.
Their first scheduled joint appearance, booked during a meeting Tuesday with the American-Statesman editorial board, is Aug. 22 at a back-to-school event at Walnut Creek Elementary School.
Linder and Vincent decided to team up for different reasons: Linder is tired of attending funerals for young minority men killed by police officers during critical incidents. Vincent is tired of seeing police officers vilified, misunderstood and painted with a broad brush that depicts them as anti-Latino or anti-African American.
Today, the City Council will take up the settlement. We’ll see what happens. But as we all know, the next critical incident is around the corner. When that moment comes, maybe both officer and suspect will walk away uninjured because of a better understanding that comes from the work of Vincent and Linder.