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Takeaways From Tuesday's Community Forum With Police

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Some Louisville residents are calling on local law enforcement to be more transparent, engaged and proactive toward improving relations with the community.Amid national scrutiny of police practices and race, nearly 100 residents attended a Tuesday night panel discussion that sought to open a dialogue between the community and Louisville law enforcement. Forums like Tuesday night's are meant to frame problems within communities and set the stage for organizing change, said Ricky Jones, the forum’s moderator and chair of the University of Louisville’s Pan-African department.Despite that, not all who attended predicted that the lively discussion of the forum will lead to any real change in the community.Shively resident Chanelle Helm, 34, said this forum, like most, was a “show boat.”“They’re asking the same individuals to show up every time, the same people to show up every time, the same people to create the answers every time and it’s just like, that’s not working anymore, they never take this table to those that are out in the community," Helm said.But panelists, which included Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad and Deborah Keeling, David Owen and Cedric Powell, all from the University of Louisville, did discuss issues that impact Louisville and the nation.Here are a few takeaways.Racism ExistsCedric Powell, law professor at the University of Louisville, highlighted a number of issues that lead to the continued existence of racism in modern society.He said there is a “notion of neutrality” that may lead some to believe that racism has faded away, but that is not the reality.“We do not live in a post-racial world,” Powell said.In fact, the neutralized rhetoric and false perceptions many people have, coupled with structural inequalities, are fuel to the problem, he said.For instance, Powell took on the line of commentary that African Americans would have less police interactions if they were “doing the right thing,” and questions of why race is still a topic of discussion. Powell said those are examples of language that does not allow progress to prevail.David Owen, philosophy professor at the University of Louisville, said addressing racism needs to happen at both the structural and individual levels.“That’s what’s key,” he said.  “We need to look at ‘how am I perpetuating the system every day.’”LMPD Needs To Collect More Data, Work With CommunityDeborah Keeling, the head of the UofL’s Justice Administration department and lead researcher on the recently released study that looked at patterns associated with LMPD traffic stops,said the research was lacking data necessary to prove if LMPD used biased policing.Owen called for more data that will go beyond traffic stops, enabling these determinations of potential bias to be made.“We need better data,” he said. But he said it is “fairly intentional” that the data needed is not being collected.“There are vested interests in not collecting the data,” he added.Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad acknowledged that there is room for improvement within the police department in certain areas.He said “unconscious racism is an absolute fact.”“We’ve got work to do in this community,” he added.“Through our training we need to make sure our police officers realize that."Conrad committed to working with the community to make positive connections with residents, specifically young African American males, which he said have accounted for nearly half of all gun deaths this year.“I will promise you to do what I can to work with you and with the men and women that work for me to make things better in terms of the way we treat people,” he said.Louisville Neighborhoods Need to Come TogetherThe longstanding racial and socio-economic segregation in Louisville is not conducive to an equal community, Owen said.He challenged the predominantly white population of eastern Jefferson County to become engaged in conversations and events regarding race relations in the community.“Begin talking about implicit bias with those folks, begin talking about structural racism with those folks and white privilege and whiteness,” he said.  “I think that’s crucial.”But Chanelle Helm said those efforts will be fruitless.“They’re never going to come to these communities,” she said.  “All those East End areas, they live in their sub-cities, they think their sub-cities are only it and they think that where we live at is just the city and we should just deal with it.”Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer attended the forum and said these communities can make strides in combating segregation and racial tensions.“People have got to have the individual will to do it and get out of their comfort zones,” he said.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.