On a recent Sunday, hundreds of residents, police officers and community leaders, including Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter, gathered in Freedom Park for a unity rally.
Honest conversations mean not everyone on both sides may like what is said, but it’s a conversation that has to be had.
Shaun Corbett, member of the barbershop association
Since it began in January, the Cops and Barbers Program, a partnership between the N.C. Local Barbershop Association and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, has hosted six events aimed at bringing officers and residents together for honest, open conversations, said Charlotte-Mecklenburg police detective Garry McFadden.
The first event drew more than 250 people.
“We met with kids who wouldn’t have ever talked to officers before,” he said.
McFadden, who worked in homicide for more than 20 years, said the program reaches those who have conflicts with police officers, giving them a chance to air their concerns.
“We’re trying to open communications between us,” he said. “The public and other organizations like to keep us apart. We all have the same common goal.”
The Cops and Barbers program has given police officers the chance to form a relationship with youth and adults, McFadden said.
“It’s just a conversation,” he said. “It opens things up.”
The detective said he is known as “Uncle Garry” to many residents. McFadden said he does not do what he does for money or fame.
“I do it because I genuinely love this job,” he said. “I just love to be in the community.”
The recent Arms Around Charlotte rally was another chance for residents to have a conversation. It came as the July 20 trial of officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick was about to start. Kerrick faces charges in the shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell.
The rally was a chance to demonstrate the unity the Cops and Barbers program has created, said Shaun Corbett, member of the barbershop association.
“We are wrapping our arms around Charlotte and letting people know we continue to work to bridge these gaps and strengthen our community,” Corbett said.
Corbett said they started the program after the riots in Ferguson, Mo. The goal is to promote community engagement, education and town halls.
“We represent a community that feels like they don’t have a voice,” he said. “The first thing we have to do is give them a voice.”
Town halls and events like the unity rally give residents a place to vent, Corbett said. It allows barriers to start being broken.
Town halls are also chance for members of the African-American community to learn their rights, how to appropriately conduct themselves with police, and how police officers must conduct themselves with the public, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police spokesman Robert Tufano said in an email.
“These are extremely important and timely topics in light of several recent police involved incidents with members of the African-American community across the country,” he said.
The NCLBA and CMPD have committed to 13 town halls this year in different areas of Charlotte, Tufano said.
“The intent is to break down existing barriers between the youth and officers and help them to see things from a different perspective and build strong relationships,” he said.
Each Cops and Barbers event, which are hold once a month, “brings their own flavor,” McFadden said. He said the meetings are a chance to have true conversations.
So far, the program has created positive dialogue and a better working relationship between community members and officers, McFadden said.
“People talk to us a little more,” he said.
However, not everyone has been satisfied with the program, McFadden said.
“We understand there is always going to be some resistance,” he said.
Corbett said honest conversations mean not everyone on both sides may like what is said, but “it’s a conversation that has to be had.”
Corbett said the Cops and Barbers program will eventually visit schools and focus more on informing residents of their rights and addressing other issues.
“We have to educate these young men,” he said. “It all starts with an honest, open conversation.”
Amanda Harris is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.