STOCKTON -- In light of the recent turmoil and the deadly violence against law enforcement officers throughout the country, a Stockton church invited the city's chief of police to speak to its members and open a dialogue between law enforcement and the larger Stockton community.
"A war on cops is a war on this country and is a war on all of us in this room,” said Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones to a packed congregation at Progressive Community Church.
The open discussion was planned weeks in advance of Sunday and was supposed to focus on Stockton PD’s Strategic Community Officer program. Since first planned, however, the topics of discussion evolved in response to recent officer-involved shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
Jones had just given the order to remove the black memory strip from officers’ badges, which honored the five officers killed in Dallas, as news came in Sunday morning that three more officers were killed in Baton Rouge.
"When we put on this uniform and go out and work, we don't know if that's going to be our last traffic stop, our last disturbance stop, we go to,” said Jones.
"I know that there's good and bad. There are good officers and bad officers,” said Pastor Glenn Shields, just before introducing Jones.
Shields invited Jones to speak honestly about the relationship between officers and communities of color.
Jones acknowledged there’s a reason behind the legacy of mistrust between the two, citing historical examples, none more powerful than the following:
"This still bothers me to this day, but it needs to be said. There was a time where police were used to be dispatched to keep lynchings civil. It's a fact of our history that we have to at least acknowledge,” said Jones.
He added that an institutional mistrust between communities of color and police had been gradually building over decades as police officers were tasked with enforcing laws that were inherently racist.
"That takes tremendous courage because we all know it's true. But to have an authority who's in law enforcement acknowledge that, it opens up the door for real dialogue,” said Shields.
"He addressed some of the issues that we face,” said Royce Brownfield, a longtime member of Progressive Community Church.
Brownfield, like many others in attendance, has felt frustrated at times dealing with Stockton PD. Sunday night, though, he said it was a step in the right direction.
"Caring about our police, as well as working with them instead of treating them as the enemy,” said Brownfield.
The evening ended with prayers for law enforcement officers, and a renewed hope that scenes like the ones which played out in Dallas and Baton Rouge happen far less often.