SMYRNA – State Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, knows the difference between a monologue and dialogue is dialogue starts conversation.
So, to start a conversation between the community and law enforcement, Evans invited people from all sectors of the community to talk and express their concerns Saturday morning at Greater Zion Hill Baptist Church in Smyrna.
Guests included members of the Smyrna and Marietta Police Departments, the community, faith leaders, elected officials, and the Cobb NAACP.
“The only way we can break down barriers and get to know each other is if we have a conversation and talk to each other honestly,” Evans said. “I can introduce all the laws and bills in the world, but if we don’t change our hearts, minds, and souls, we’re not going to get to where we need to be. And the only way we can do that organically is through conversation. That’s what I’m hoping we can do — move toward a better understanding of each other.”
Evans said she organized the event because she was desperate to work on ending the violence erupting between the community and law enforcement.
“The recent tragedies in Dallas and Baton Rouge, both the killings of civilians and the subsequent murder of law enforcement officers, has shaken our community and others across the country,” Evans said. “Officers being fired on in Marietta shows us that the division we feel impacts every community across America, including ours.”
About 50 people, including Cobb NAACP president Deane Bonner and Smyrna Police Deputy Chief Robert Harvey, showed up to be part of the conversation. As participants expressed their concerns and offered possible solutions, Evans and Caragan Thiel, a member of Evans’ staff, took notes that will be part of the continued dialogue.
Bonner said she enjoyed the conversation among the participants and the thing she hopes everyone took from the event was the importance of talking honestly to each other and the importance of voting when it comes to change.
“It was an excellent turnout, and we certainly are pleased with the diversity here today,” Bonner said. “We know this is truly just a beginning, so we are looking forward to continuing this conversation. To deal with race and policing are two real important issues and both were discussed openly today. It was a great start for us to build on.”
Harvey, along with other law enforcement officers, discussed issues confronting law enforcement officers and the community. He also described the “One Congregation, One Precinct” program, a program between clergy and police.
“One Congregation, One Precinct is about clergy and law enforcement coming up with real solutions about how we can start dealing with some of the problems we have,” Harvey said. “We have different strike teams and task forces who are getting together and trying to figure out how the seven counties that make up Atlanta can start to work together on local solutions. What the solution may be in Smyrna may be different for Marietta and East Point. So, we’re involving local clergy to try and come up with real solutions for each community.”
Triana James, a member of Greater Zion Hill Baptist Church and the reigning Mrs. Georgia, brought her 18-year-old daughter, Jersey Arnold, to the program to be part of the conversation.
“We brought police officers and the community together to start a conversation,” James said. “We’re hoping that the conversation will help us come up with solutions so we can be united and come together as one community.”
Arnold agreed with her mother, but told the audience that it was important for the community to understand the difference between the generations.
“I’ve been listening and taking in all the information,” Arnold said. “But I want to say that with all the stuff going on, it’s becoming harder for people my age to trust law enforcement. I’ve been taught how to respect law enforcement, so I haven’t had any problems. But my generation tends to give respect when we get it. If a police officer approaches young people in the wrong way and don’t respect them, they’re not going to return the respect.”
Evans said the event the conversation started at Saturday’s event would not end when the participants left.
“I think it was a great start,” Evans said. “I think we had a lot of folks who were willing to share some good testimony and some good thoughts, but I know there’s another layer that we need to get to. So, this is certainly just a beginning of a continuing project to lead us toward a solution.”