'They need us now': Group that fosters police-community relations brings flowers for the injured
A DuPage County-based group that has worked for the past three years to improve relationships between police and diverse communities on Thursday turned its focus to one force that needs its support the most: the Aurora Police Department.
After responding nearly a week ago to a workplace shooting in which a terminated employee killed five people and injured six police officers, the Aurora force could use some kindness and encouragement, Unity Partnership President and Founder Regina Brent of Aurora said.
"They need us now and we should be there," she said.
Eight Unity Partnership members, joined by DuPage County NAACP Treasurer Bob Mathis, stopped by the Aurora police headquarters to deliver seven floral arrangements -- one for the family of each injured officer and another for Chief Kristen Ziman.
"We often come to them regarding the injustices that happen in the community," Brent said. "We come to them when we are in trouble. And today, we know that they are in trouble. So we come to them in compassion."
Aurora police Sgts. Andrew Wolcott and Chris Whitfield met briefly with the visitors, speaking about the aftermath of the shooting and saying the injured officers' physical and emotional recovery are beginning. The sergeants said the final officer suffering from a gunshot wound has been released from the hospital, and the officer who suffered a knee injury came in Thursday for his first day back on the job.
The shooting was a dose of the worst of reality, Unity Partnership members said, but it also provides an opportunity to connect for a better future.
"Even in this tragedy, I think it's a choice of how we want to lead with love," said Marquell Oliver of Aurora, youth director for Unity Partnership. "The more interesting part is how do you continue that out without the adversity."
The tragedy also emphasizes the important role police play in providing safety and security, Unity Partnership Treasurer Roger Chawla said.
Aurora officers played that role as they responded to the Henry Pratt Co. manufacturing warehouse last Friday afternoon, which Chawla said makes the force particularly deserving of support.
"Safety is a huge thing now," Chawla said. "Everyone feeling secure in the diverse world we live in now I think is very critical."
The action of supporting police with positive words and colorful blooms was the flip side of the same coin by which Unity Partnership always acts to connect police and communities, member Paul Scott of Bloomingdale said.
"We always support police," he said. "It's just that we want them to do more things that reflect the challenge of policing the communities that they don't do so well in."
Brent said strong police-community relationships can be a preventive measure that help curtail the threat of future shootings and other forms of violence. She said diversity training at workplaces and mental health supports from employers and schools are other preventive actions Unity Partnership supports.
After thanking Aurora officers, Unity Partnership planned to give roses to the Naperville Police Department, which sent about 20 officers to help search for and subdue the shooter, and to stop by the scene to pay respects to families of the fallen. But the Aurora officers remained the group's focus.
"We are there," Brent said, "to stand up and honor them for saving so many lives."