DURHAM (WTVD) --A panel of local law enforcement leaders and community activists gathered by ABC11 Monday evening talked about the racial tension that is sweeping the nation right now in light of the shootings by - and of - police.
The goal was to have a dialogue about what we can do to help our community and to find ways to create unity and trust.
While the Triangle has not seen some of the nationally-publicized cases that other communities have seen, there has been friction in cities like Durham where there have been claims of racial bias in traffic stops. In Raleigh, there were many questions in the community after a police officer shot a young black man during a struggle in February. The officer was later cleared by the district attorney after a lengthy investigation.
WATCH: Replay the full town hall here
Like many communities, the Triangle has seen Black Lives Matter protests following shootings in other cities across the country.
During Monday's forum, Diana Powell with Justice Served NC kicked off the night with a comment about the distrust between police and some in the Raleigh African-American community. She said things have improved recently with programs like Coffee with a Cop that seek to better communication between the two sides.
"We've always said that all police officers are not bad police officers and that we've always tried to be engaged with our police officers," she said.
Black Lives Matter activist Darrion Smith was asked what the movement wants.
"We want to be treated as human beings and we have human rights. We want to be respected, treated with dignity, like anyone else," he said.
Smith said in the Triangle that black and Hispanic neighborhoods feel like "they're policed and not protected" and some are profiled and stereotyped.
Responding to that type of criticism, new Durham Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said she agrees with some of it.
"It's the responsibility of good chiefs to constantly evaluate your department - and when I say evaluate - I mean look at the data, look closely at it, don't just look at the numbers, look at the who. Most chiefs, most officers, want good officers working with them," she said.
Some representing law enforcement said some of the criticism of police is undeserved.
"I think there's been a lot of information that's been shared - especially on social media - that has really driven a wedge between us and the community. A lot of that information has been false and has been very hurtful and very divisive," said Matthew Cooper with the Raleigh Police Protective Association - the union for Raleigh police officers.
"We need the support from the community in order to do our jobs," said Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown. "And every citizen should expect to feel safe in their community, throughout their city when they're travelling whatever that encounter is, and that comes through continuous training for our officers to make sure they understand those dynamics."
Deck-Brown said citizens need to understand there are avenues for them to complain and bring problems to the attention of department leaders.
Irving Joyner, law professor and civil rights activist at North Carolina Central University, said he sees the problem between law enforcement and the community as mutual respect.
"A lot of that revolves around this notion of Constitutional rights, human rights, and a respect for those rights, and in the African-American communities historically, people have not felt that their rights have been protected and there police officers are not there to protect and serve, but to patrol and to contain," he said.
It was pointed out that there are so many social problems within certain communities like poverty and drugs - and the police are often expected to act as law enforcement and social services - which puts them under tremendous pressure.
"We have to understand that they are often in split-second decision making in matters of life and death and they won't always get it right, but training and work will help," offered Rick Glazier - Executive Director of the North Carolina Justice Center. "By the same token, police have to understand that when they cover over police misconduct or excessive use of force and don't admit it, don't respond to citizen complaints, that festers in a way that makes it difficult for everyone to have trust in the community.
Many on the panel said the key to improving the situation is to improve communication so both sides appreciate where the other is coming from.
"In order to make a police department better, to have better conversations, we need to engage in conversations with the police department," said Pastor Paul Anderson with The Fountain of Raleigh Fellowship church.
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said he agreed with the need for communication, but he also said he sees a very low level of respect for law enforcement by the general public regardless of race.
"I encourage people in Wake County to ride with us, to see what we do," he said. "I think that's what we need, to see what we go through."
"I don't know of any police officer that goes to work wanting to shoot somebody," he continued. "But I can tell you this from the bottom of my heart - and I've been doing this for 49 years - I don't know of any police officer who wouldn't give his life for anyone in this room."
All of the law enforcement leaders at Monday's forum stressed that they want to hear citizen complaints and concerns.
Here are some of the ways you can do that.
In Wake County, you can use the sheriff's contact us page.
For more serious complaints, you can contact Internal Affairs at (919) 856-6900.
In Raleigh, CLICK HERE for more information about how to contact the police department
In Durham, information about filing complaints can be found on the police department's website.
There is a recourse if you feel a PD complaint was not handled properly. Here is the link for information for the Civilian Review Board: https://durhamnc.gov/277/Civilian-Police-Review-Board
And here is the request to appeal form: https://durhamnc.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/958
MONDAY'S PARTICIPANTS (in alphabetical order)
Pastor Paul Anderson - The Fountain of Raleigh Fellowship church.
Chief Cerelyn Davis - Durham Police Department
Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown - Raleigh Police Department
Matthew Cooper - the Raleigh Police Protective Association - the union for Raleigh police officers.
Rick Glazier - Executive Director of the North Carolina Justice Center, a leading progressive research and advocacy organization.
Sheriff Donnie Harrison - Wake County
KJ Hill - associate pastor for community development and local outreach at The Summit Church.
Irving Joyner - Law professor and civil rights activist North Carolina Central University.
Pastor Mark Anthony Middleton - Abundant Life church in Durham.
Diana Powell - Justice Served NC, a grassroots initiative in Raleigh whose mission is to provide a community-based alternative to the courts and create life changing interventions.
Minister Paul Scott - Durham minister and activist - Messianic Afrikan Nation Ministry.
Darrion Smith - Black Workers for Justice, an organization working to build the strength and leadership of black workers, he is also involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.
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