People in conversation

Building Trust Between Police and the Black Community in North Carolina

When Kate Dieter-Maradei—a court mediator, activist, and mother to two black children—found herself talking to an off-duty police officer at a mutual friend’s barbecue, she instinctively put her guard up.

Kate recognized how easy it would be to get into heated exchanges about Black Lives Matter, racial prejudice, and law enforcement. She didn’t feel equipped to go there.

At that moment, something shifted. With so much at stake for families like hers, Kate realized that she simply couldn’t avoid conversations like these, as difficult and emotional as they are. She also recognized that even professional mediators might need help engaging with people across painful, polarizing differences.

Kate and a group of likeminded colleagues envisioned a local alliance between activists, communities of color, and police departments, which could serve the community by creating spaces for meaningful dialogue about race and justice.

One of her colleagues mentioned Essential Partners.

Bringing Together Activists & Law Enforcement

No two communities are exactly alike, which means no two EP programs are exactly the same.

After talking with Kate about her hopes and the stakeholders who should be involved, EP led community focus groups to understand the community’s needs. The EP programs, shaped by that input, were designed in collaboration with activists, members of law enforcement, and local community members.

After that initial design and mapping process, EP launched a pilot training of activists and police officers. This equipped them to craft, organize, and facilitate dialogues about race and justice on their own, according to the needs of a given context.

These EP-trained stakeholders are working to find out, together, what it would take to build real and lasting trust between the Black community and members of law enforcement in the Raleigh-Durham area.

Photo: Police car stopping vehicle

“As a black mother I participated because I want to save my son from harm, and I feared for our safety. I no longer have that fear—just a belief that my community is stronger and there are honest police officers who care about me and my son.”

Mary, Dialogue Participant

Raleigh, North Carolina

“My community is stronger”

EP practitioners have now trained dozens of facilitators, including members of local law enforcement, Black community stakeholders, and activists. These facilitators have, with their new skills and ongoing EP support, organized their own four-part dialogue series with people in the Raleigh-Durham community.

It is a testament to the care and investment of the local planning team and facilitators that the participants of these dialogues have been so moved by the experience.

One participant, Mary, felt a shift in her perspective on law enforcement. “As a black mother I participated because I want to save my son from harm, and I feared for our safety. I no longer have that fear—just a belief that my community is stronger and there are honest police officers who care about me and my son.”

“Essential Partners made a tough and often sensitive subject easier to discuss,” said Adren, a local attorney. “The material I learned has helped me develop a better way of communicating and resolving issues when I mentor African American youth.”

“I am very proud to have been a part of these discussions,” said Kitty, a local mediator, “but more are needed. The questions presented were well thought out and provoked me to take a deeper look at my own biases and how I may be contributing to problems. It left me wanting and needing more. This was a meaningful start to a discussion that must continue.”

Members of law enforcement spoke of forging new connections with citizens they hope to serve. One officer, surprised at having the chance to open up about his own experiences and concerns, said it was the first dialogue he’d participated in that wasn’t “a forum for everyone else to attack me just for being a cop.”

Their Work Continues

Thanks to a generous $25,000 grant from the American Arbitration Association Foundation, Essential Partners will have the ability to train twice the number of local facilitators in this multiracial alliance between law enforcement and the local community.

EP practitioners will also provide coaching and consultation as new public dialogues for the larger community are organized—particularly in the context of national protests around police violence and Black Lives Matter.

These conversations, led by local stakeholders, designed to meet specific local needs and concerns, stand as a monument to what is possible when communities are empowered to hold meaningful, open, vulnerable conversations about life-and-death issues with dignity and care.