Police, DuPage minority leaders 'want to find peace and harmony'
Naomi Ruth Barber King had the right audience Tuesday in Naperville when she told a story about her brother-in-law, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and his interactions with police.
King, 86, spoke as an honored guest in front of roughly 80 police chiefs, Naperville and DuPage County officials and African-American leaders convened by a group called Unity Partnership to discuss ways in which police and communities can better work together.
She recalled a story of her brother-in-law's calm, turn-the-other-cheek reaction one night after he had been detained by a police officer, whom he said tried to strangle him with his necktie.
"'The more they abuse us,'" Dr. King told his sister-in-law in the story she relayed Tuesday, "'that is the more we've got to forgive them and love them.'"
Naomi King, dubbed "the Queen of the Kings," shared her message as the police leaders and "change agents" in attendance during a luncheon at The Craftsman by Two Brothers talked about strategies to continue the civil rights work her activist brother-in-law started.
"It appears today, now, that we are all in the same boat," said Regina Brent of Aurora, president and founder of Unity Partnership. "We want to find peace and harmony."
Progress toward a better understanding of minority communities and more equitable treatment from police will come from working together, leaders representing both sides said.
"We need each other," said Dwayne Betts, deputy chief of the Chicago Police Department, who runs the Office of Community Policing. "We cannot fix this with just police alone."
Unity Partnership doesn't want them to. For the past two years, the group, based in DuPage County, has been working in concert with chiefs to address issues in policing that sometimes make it feel as if black people are the only ones who commit crimes, said Fred Greenwood, Unity Partnership vice president.
The group took shape after Brent and Lisle police Chief David Anderson connected during a funeral service in Lisle for Sandra Bland, the Villa Park native and one-time Naperville resident who was found dead in a Texas jail cell in July 2015.
"When I went to get my folks, he went to get his folks," Brent said, and a partnership formed involving African-American leaders and police chiefs from towns such as Darien, Naperville, Oak Brook and Woodridge.
"What's becoming more apparent, the more we work together, is we all want the same thing," said Oak Brook Chief James Krueger: Safe communities in which to pursue the American dream.
Tuesday's gathering was co-hosted by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, of which Krueger is president. The association's executive director, Ed Wojcicki, said he and the chiefs he represents are committed to "being a part of the solution to whatever racial divide we have in this country."
To show that commitment, Brent encouraged those in attendance to find new ways to work together, especially to help youths. Growing up in Chicago with relatives who worked as police officers, Brent said she trusted cops and saw them as "Officer Friendly," a benevolent force there to protect and preserve a safe way of life.
"Unity Partnership's goal and passion and intention," she said, "is to try to adopt that same theory across the lay of this land."