'It took cameras for people to start listening to us': Black Cincinnatians speak to police panel

CINCINNATI, Ohio — After a week in which shocking acts of violence dominated national headlines, a Cincinnati church is calling for change. New Prospect Baptist Church invited a panel of police officers to listen to its community’s concerns Monday night.

Hundreds of people attended the event and spoke with more than 20 police officers from the Cincinnati area. Their message was simple: the gulf of mistrust between police and African-American communities is widening, and rebuilding that trust will take hard work.

“A couple of years back, I thought of (police) as my role models and wanted to look up to them,” said 14-year-old Jeremiah Cummings. “Nowadays, I don’t know. I really just don’t know.”

Is he afraid of police?

“For the most part, yes,” Cummings said.

Last week, two graphic videos of officer-involved shootings circulated across the internet. Both depicted black men — Philando Castile, who was shot to death during a traffic stop, and Alton Sterling, who was shot while selling CDs outside a Baton Rouge convenience store — who were killed in what many believe is another case of law enforcement using excessive force when policing black communities.

Last Thursday night, a protest over these deaths was interrupted by an attack that killed five Dallas police officers. The assailant, a black man, reportedly said that he had specifically targeted white people.

“It’s just tough,” said Greg Merritt, a Cincinnati resident who attended the panel. “The country is in a tough spot right now.”

Jeremiah Cummings attended the event with his mother, Cheriese Lindsey, who said that the deaths of Castile and Sterling are just visible examples of an abusive pattern that has shaped black Americans’ lives — and deaths — for years.

“I came out tonight because it frustrates me that it took cameras for people to start listening to us,” she said. "We have been telling you all this for years.”

Attendees said the panel was a step in the right direction, but it takes more than discussion to bring changes to the way America’s law enforcement interacts with black communities.

“We cannot just be angry,” said Quentin Monroe of the Cincinnati Young Ministers Association. “We want justice, but there’s a certain way we must work together to bring about that justice.”

And Monday night’s panel was far from an unqualified success.

“If you really want to have a dialogue with the community, it would have been nice for some white officers to show up,” said Greg Merritt.

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