A Report From the Streets on Cops and the Black Community
An interview with Toni Brinker, founder of Operation Blue Shield/One Community USA
Given the violence that has erupted across America in the wake of the George Floyd killing, The Stream’s John Zmirak interviewed Toni Brinker. She founded and leads Operation Blue Shield/One Community USA. It works to resolve tensions and improve cooperation between police and citizens.
John Zmirak: Ms. Brinker, could you please describe your group’s mission for Stream readers?
Toni Brinker: I founded it in 2015, as a non-profit dedicated to building bridges of trust between ordinary citizens and law enforcement/first responders. Unification for the ‘common good’ plays a huge part in stabilizing and revitalizing neighborhoods. This provides economic opportunities and a better life for all … no matter their zip code.
One Community USA™ seeks to improve communities by building ‘neighborhoods of opportunity.’ Core programs serve approximately 5,250 Americans annually. They provide the boots-on-the-ground tools and practical approaches needed when addressing and resolving ongoing societal issues. The goal? To promote local economic growth and a stronger America. Programs address needs in education, health, reentry second chance opportunities (military and civilians), civic engagement, safety and citizen advocacy. Evidence-based programs engage citizens and law enforcement/ first responders in open conversations. In them, every voice matters, so people have a sense of being heard and valued.
Disbelief and Grief
What were your reactions to the video of Derek Chauvin and his fellow officers arresting George Floyd?
My reaction was just like everyone else’s across America who saw the video. Disbelief. Then I was shocked, angry, and immensely sad for Mr. Floyd’s family and friends. Injustices like that should never happen, no matter what.
What reactions did you receive directly from your contacts in the community you serve?
Our Shop Talk stakeholders (citizens and the police department) immediately called for a town hall meeting. The chief, mayor and city manager opened the discussion by denouncing Officer Derek Chavin and expressing condolences for the Floyd family. The rest of the meeting was an open peaceful forum where everyone was able to ask questions, i.e. citizens to law enforcement, law enforcement of citizen. It provided a platform to constructively and peacefully address the issues race, racism, unjust killings and rampant crime within many communities.
Our community engagement and community intervention programs create a sense of community, well-being and increased public safety. Those are critically important to everyone. Each program is designed to build or rebuild bridges of trust and create an environment of unity where everyone works together for the common good.
The Lawless Streets of a Godless Land
There was significant rioting, property damage, and at least one serious assault on a business owner here in Dallas. And we saw extensive violence nationwide. What was behind that?
Where do I begin? The root of our problem is what I call the good, the bad and the ugly of mankind. We can point to several things. No prayers in schools, no patriotism in school, high divorce rate, fatherless families, sins from the past, and on and on … .
Here is how I view what I can do. I cannot change what happened 200 years ago. Nor what happened 50 years ago. All I can do is change what is happening today going forward. Real change that is positive, constructive and pulls everyone forward for the common good is hard work. After the marches have stopped and the level of yelling subsided, the next question is always the same: “Now what do we do?” That is where One CommunityUSA shines the brightest.
Extremists Manipulating the Vulnerable
To what degree are citizens with legitimate grievances being manipulated by political extremists with other agendas? Or simply piggy-backed by would-be thieves?
That game has gone on far too long. No matter where you live or what you look like, we all want the same things. We want a safe neighborhood to raise our family, go to school, attend church and have a job. Safety is the first step in a stabilizing neighborhood. With safety assured, you’ll grow a revitalized community with opportunities for all. Focusing on the big picture allows for everyone to be heard. It brings out the best in mankind for the sake of their children and their children. Stabilizing a neighborhood from within is sustainable. It allows people to work hard so they can achieve their dreams.
There are reports that Black Lives Matter is angry at Antifa for hijacking this issue and destroying black-owned businesses, black neighborhoods. You’ve had some contact with BLM in the past. Do you know anything about this?
I have heard this. Why hurt the very people that you say you are trying to help? Many of the marchers are from out of town; hence, they have not alliance and no connections to the businesses they are destroying so consequences mean nothing to them. Unfortunately, that attitude not only destroys buildings and businesses. It destroys people.
What We Can Do
How should religious believers, especially white Christians, respond to this crisis?
My hope is that all religious leaders stand up, speak up and get involved. Staying silent is not the answer.
How are police officers whom you deal with reacting to these events?
They are heartbroken. People forget that good cops hate bad cops as much as we do. The general public also forgets there are bad people everywhere. That means not just bank robbers and drug dealers, but bad doctors, lawyers, reporters, politicians, and so on.
What are the long-term solutions to this division?
Mankind needs to hit the reset button. Admit that we are all in this together. We didn’t get to this point in history because we did everything right. Nor because we did everything wrong. We are human and we make mistakes. We need to address issues from a position of truthfulness, forgiveness, caring and patience. These problems cannot be solved overnight.
Police reform is needed and law enforcement knows it and wants it. High crime neighborhoods need the involvement of community leaders who live in the neighborhood and know the streets. Politicians need to “get real.” People in the media need to know their words can kill. To admit that they would not want chaos to erupt in their neighborhoods. Citizens need to work hand-in glove with first responders. That happens through community engagement and community intervention programs. Initiatives that unite, build or rebuild bridges of trust and create positive change.
The Sacred Fabric of a City
Toni Brinker: I guess I’ve explained this best in a piece I wrote five years ago. That’s when I felt moved to found this organization.
The sacred fabric of a city is defined by its people. When citizens, local government and community-outreach organizations work together collaboratively, the result can be booming economic development, improved residential opportunities and increased public safety. It is impossible to have success or failure in one category without the other two producing the same result. But to achieve these shared goals, we need to begin at the beginning.
Public safety is the first and most critical component when building a city of opportunity because public safety affects every citizen and every neighborhood. Safe and economically sustainable neighborhoods only happen when people living and working in those neighborhoods have a sense of security built on a foundation of trust. Whether it’s the parents of a young family putting their children to bed for the night or someone catching the bus and heading home for dinner, a sense of security coupled with a feeling of community inclusion instills the desire, courage and determination to pursue their own dreams.
The economic benefit of reducing crime is the lynchpin to improving public safety and creating safer, more stable and more secure neighborhoods. Paramount to achieving reduced crime rates are citizens and law enforcement agencies cooperating together through open dialogue and community-centric activities. By working collectively to acknowledge issues, we can create an atmosphere of cooperation and a shared vision of safe and thriving neighborhoods.
Prosperous and vibrant communities lead to improved accessibility to homeownership opportunities, better schools, better health care and, most importantly, job-creative economic development that benefits every individual, every taxpayer and every community across our great nation. The economic advantages derived from a secure and thriving community-centric city will produce the sound, fiscal conditions that provide all mayors and city councils the opportunity to reduce spending, expand revenues and deliver the vital goods and services that all Americans want and expect.
The cycle begins with us. Like the legs on a three-legged stool; public safety, neighborhood stability and economic-development opportunities are inextricably intertwined. To work successfully, each one needs the support of the others. Collaboration is the key. Collaboration only happens when the power of one becomes the “power of many.”