As the July sun beat down from above, community leaders and police walked the streets of a northside neighborhood Saturday morning. House by house, they met with residents in an effort to build trust between local law enforcement and the African American community.
Police Chief Brandon Clabes said improving communication between police and the public is a priority, especially in wake of rising tension between the groups nationwide.
“That makes it more incumbent upon me as police chief to make sure people understand what we do, why we do it, and how we do it,” Clabes said. “And to we want them to understand that we’re here to help not hinder.”
Clabes was joined by a coalition of community organizations, church groups and city leaders. The group targeted the Quail Ridge housing addition, located north of NE 10th Street, between Midwest and Air Depot boulevards, for the community engagement event. They spoke with residents about issues facing their neighborhood and promoted services available in the community.
Councilwoman Christine Allen-Price, who represents the area, and Milton Combs, a local activist and CEO of the P.E.O.P.L.E Foundation, Inc. and the Advocates for Justice, came up with the idea for the community engagement event. Representatives from the NAACP, local churches and others soon joined the effort.
“We are trying to strengthen the relationships with the community, with the officers, with city services and address the concerns of members of the community,” said Garland Pruitt, president of the Oklahoma City branch of the NAACP.
Many residents were grieving the loss of 16-year-old Keandre Bowser, who was gunned down outside his home on Michael Drive. Several people said they were concerned about children without parental supervision, drivers speeding through the neighborhood and inadequate street lighting.
Theodis Manning Sr., a pastor at Divine Wisdom Worship Center, applauded community leaders for reaching out to the community. He believes Clabes’ participation in the event will go a long way toward improving relationships.
“This is one of the greatest things that has happened in Midwest City this year,” he said. “We have an outstanding police chief. And for him
to do this will help this community so much. It’s not just the police out here, but the police chief knocking on doors and letting citizens know he’s concerned.”
Denzell Starks, a student at Harding Fine Arts Academy, appreciated the group taking time to visit his neighborhood. He said he has a strong interest in African American history and efforts of the NAACP.
“I think it’s very encouraging that they came to our neighborhood,” he said.
Breeze Henkel moved to the neighborhood five years ago and supports the group’s efforts to help residents. She said the neighborhood has an abundance of vacant homes and children without parental supervision.
“I would like to see this community change, it could be great and it has to start somewhere,” Henkel said.
In addition to last week’s event, a march against violence is scheduled for July 28 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the same area. After the demonstration, participants will gather in Mid-America Park for refreshments.