Team­ing to build a last­ing trust

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

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.

ralph Bar­rera

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