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How Can Black Chicagoans Stop Police Violence? Tragedies Spur Conversation

 Alton Sterling, killed Tuesday by Baton Rouge, La., police outside a convenience store, was one of two slain men honored by Chicago activists in a Fuller  Park  protest of police brutality Thursday.
Alton Sterling, killed Tuesday by Baton Rouge, La., police outside a convenience store, was one of two slain men honored by Chicago activists in a Fuller Park protest of police brutality Thursday.
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CHICAGO — What can be done about the shootings of black men by police? And the relationships between officers and the communities they serve?

That is what South Side community leaders and pastors are contemplating following three days of horrific violence that most recently left five Dallas police officers dead. 

On Thursday, Rev. Corey Brooks of New Beginnings Church said black men will continue to die at the hands of police until they are no longer viewed as criminals.

“I think that there’s not enough cultural sensitivity, and a lot of individuals are seeing black men as thugs, even though they may be a professional,” he said. “They’re looked at as a criminal.”

Gun Violence 'A Call To Action'

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are the latest victims of fatal shootings by police officers that have stirred up a national outcry.

Sterling was shot and killed by a police officer in Baton Rouge, La., outside of a convenience store Wednesday. He had been selling CDs, according to news reports. 

Castile was shot and killed in Falcon Heights, Minn. on Thursday. He was pulled over during a traffic stop and shot while reaching for his wallet to show police his license to carry a firearm, according to witness reports.

Brooks said he wants to see some type of diversity training or racial training for all officers.

Gun violence in general needs to be met with a call to action, Brooks said, adding that he was not ignoring the gun violence that is not police-related right here in Chicago.

“I think gun violence, whether perpetrated by a police officer or a brother on the corner, any type of gun violence always needs a call to action,” Brooks said.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church, said that police keep killing black men because nothing happens when they do. He posted on Facebook Thursday his thoughts:

"Some ask Why COPS KEEP KILLING BLACK MEN, Like Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge...when everything is on Video....you want to know why???Trayvon Martin: NO CONVICTION...Sandra Bland: NO CONVICTION...Sean Bell: NO CONVICTION...Eric Garner: NO CONVICTION...Rakia Boyd: NO CONVICTION...Mike Brown: NO CONVICTION..Tamir Rice: NO CONVICTION...Freddie Gray: NO CONVICTION....and on and on and On...THAT'S WHY!!!!! CAUSE NOT A DAMN THING HAPPENS!!!!!!!!!"

In a later post Thursday, he said “Police Union Contracts are so on lock that it makes it nearly impossible to convict a Police Officer of wrongdoing.”

Cultural Awareness 'A Major Key'

Former Gresham District Chicago Police Officer Richard Wooten said this week's incidents were tragic, and that increased cultural awareness is needed.

“It’s a major key in officers doing an effective job in certain communities, especially African-American communities, which they have to actually know the culture and how the African-American people live,” Wooten said.

Wooten said blacks are targeted and are victims more than any other race or ethnic group. One solution is to push for what he called less lethal weapons for officers, including Tasers. 

He also had advice for people who find themselves pulled over or stopped by a police officer, saying they should keep their hands on the wheel or the dashboard at all times.

“Always keep your hands visible where they can see because officers are trained to respond to your hand movement,” he said.

In the case of Castile, he did have his hands up, but reached toward his pockets to get his ID when asked, news reports say.

Wooten said that he recommends that people ask officers for permission to reach for anything.

Also, in Illinois, if stopped by a police officer, it’s not required to mention one’s conceal-carry license unless asked specifically, Wooten said, who teaches concealed-carry classes.

It’s important that people understand officers are already on edge because of how society has changed, Wooten said.

“You have a lot of officers out here who fear the way society has changed,” he said. “Society has become more resistant to the police. They’ll fight before they go to jail now.”

'Love Is The Answer'

Victor Love and Toussaint Werner are two of the co-founders of the Breaking Bread group that was formed last year after Tyshawn Lee’s slaying.

Their program mentors young men on the South Side, primarily in Chatham. They teach them to love themselves and their community.

Helping them guide society as successful black men is also the goal, while getting them to reclaim their communities.

When dealing with police, Toussaint said that it was once as simple as telling them to follow the officer’s orders, but now “I don’t know if I feel that way today,” he said.

He said that black people can’t address the police-involved shootings without talking about the shooting that is done by their peers. 

“A lot of times we look at the violence in Chicago and in our own neighborhoods as something separate than the violence between the police and our communities,” he said. “In reality, they’re not separate. They’re both symptoms of the same problem.”

He and Love said that love is the answer. They, along with the five other founders are working toward instilling that concept, because once they love themselves, they will value other lives, they said. From there, the men will unite and work together to protect their communities and improve them, they said.

Activists honored Sterling and Castile in a Fuller Park protest Thursday night. 

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