KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Like so many other communities nationwide, West Michigan is trying to comprehend what has taken place; opening dialogue about the frustrations and fears that have surfaced involving race and police's role in the community.
Forums and rallies, like ones held in Grand Rapids and Battle Creek in the past few days, also took place in Kalamazoo Saturday night.
Representatives from the black community as well as law enforcement were on hand at the Galilee Baptist Church, making it very clear this wasn't about blaming people, but rather being productive by asking questions, suggesting solutions and where we go from here.
It was a packed room in the wake of tragedy with law enforcement and the Kalamazoo community saying 'no more' and discussing how we can make a change in West Michigan.
“I think it’s a joint effort and I think we have to be able to compromise and all of us have to take home a greater amount of accountability and not be so quick to point the finger at one another," said Pastor Strick Stickland, state chaplain for the NAACP.
"We have to do our part and hope that the other side will do their part as well.”
Pastor Strickland, who sat on the panel taking questions from the audience, said we are watching a revolution before our eyes.
“I think that this particular incident has caused law enforcement agencies throughout the country to be able to feel the sting of the loss of life that civilians have been suffering through for quite some time and my prayers go out to the families,” Strickland said.
Captain Victor Ledbetter with the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety offered a unique perspective, saying it's not easy right now to be an African-American man working in law enforcement.
“It’s hard, it’s very hard. I’m black and I’m blue," he said. "I understand it from a black male’s perspective and also understand it from my blue brothers and sisters."
Ledbetter said there are issues some members of law enforcement 'need to own up to,' while saying there are some things that are things black men need to do better as well.
"It’s on both groups. I feel like I’m an advocate for both sides to my white brothers and sisters in law enforcement and I can explain better some of the things that black men in particular are feeling."
The tragedies are affecting people across the country and people of all ages, like 10-year-old Bradley Ross Jackson.
“It's really sad," Jackson said. "We need to join hands and treat each other with dignity and respect.”
Saturday night's questions consisted of what to do during a traffic stop or what people should do in situations where people feeling they are being treated unfairly by law enforcement.
Police responded, explaining citizens should keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times and be upfront about whether they are carrying a firearm. Police also gave the audience resources about how to report issues with officers and explaining if they have issues to report them immediately, not to wait a few months or expect change without reporting it.
“After tonight we need to stop doing what most people do: say there’s a problem, we need to make change, rah rah rah and leave," Ledbetter said.
"We actually need to get serious about it, roll up our sleeves, sit down together and say, 'What can we do?' and be serious about it."
Both sides agreed the conversation can't stop here and this can only be the beginning of an open dialogue, adding it's not one side or the other either, law enforcement and the community need to step up and meet in the middle.