Respecting law officers begins with our youth

Central Florida Urban League President and CEO, Glenton Gilzean Jr., penned a meaningful column in the Orlando Sentinel.

os-glenton-gilzean-ng-jpg-20160718.jpg I am proud of the vibrant, diverse and inclusive community that I have called my home  since November.

 In the most horrific of tragedies, the terrorist attack at Pulse nightclub, the resilience of our  community was on display. Citizens from all walks of life rallied together to support the  victims, their families and the first responders. Our response reverberated around the world,  proving that our community can stand together against a common foe.

 Yet, while Americans continuously rally together to oppose terrorism, we still have difficulty coming together to support one another.

A schism has developed pitting proponents of Black Lives Matter against those of All Lives Matter. Yet, we are all fighting the same fight. The Black Lives Matter movement does not diminish the value of other lives. It simply means that specific attention needs to be paid to the injustices experienced by African-Americans, particularly as it relates to law enforcement.

This movement is grounded in facts. According to Mapping Police Violence, in 2015, 37 percent of all unarmed people (102 individuals) killed by police were African-American, despite being only 13 percent of the population. Unarmed African-Americans were killed at five times the rate of unarmed Caucasians last year.

It begs us to ask the question: How could a community trust law enforcement when the system is failing it? Our solution is far from simple, but we believe that it must begin with our youth, ensuring that they have an open relationship with law enforcement.

Simply put: Respect, which goes both ways, must be taught at a young age.

Fortunately, the city of Orlando and Orange County have been beacons of hope for our country. Local law enforcement, led by city of Orlando Police Chief John Mina and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, have made it a priority to work hand in hand with the community.

In the past year, we have established joint projects such as Coffee with a Cop, which allows our community to engage in healthy conversation with law enforcement, without any preconditions. This has made law enforcement more approachable and has begun the process of alleviating fears and concerns.

Law enforcement has opened up its doors to our youth through its Teen Academy, and local youth recently honored seven officers — heroes — for being a positive influence on their lives.

Our growing relationship and trust has led to real change. Respect for our law enforcement has increased, and we are working together to find solutions for local injustices. Recently, Mina and the city of Orlando issued a directive to all law enforcement to use the minimal amount of force necessary, and to immediately intervene if officers see a colleague using too much force.

Our community spoke; Mina and the city of Orlando listened.

Now, we must return the favor. Much like our community would not want to be demonized when one goes astray, we cannot vilify an entire group based upon the actions of an extreme few. We must respect these brave men and women who risk their lives daily to protect every member of our community, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Mutual respect will lead to more dialogue and change. In the coming months, the Central Florida Urban League will build upon our strong foundation and bring these conversations to all levels of law enforcement, from Florida's attorney general in Tallahassee to the newest recruit in Orlando.

We have taken great strides in our community to address racial injustices, and I am proud that the Urban League will continue to be at the forefront. I believe that the life of every man, woman and child is equally important.

Eventually, when the social media hashtag fizzles and the cameras move on to their next story, we will need to work together through a foundation of respect and open dialogue to achieve a peaceful solution.

Click here to read it via the Orlando Sentinel. 

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