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Snohomish County’s Cops and Barbers initiative aims to ‘bridge the gap’ between community, police

Louis Brown gets his hair cut for the first time in months by barber De Von McDowell at DeCharlenes Beauty Salon prior to the Juneteenth Freedom March and Celebration on June 19, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. DeCharlenes Beauty Salon was started by DeCharlene Williams who was one of the originators of Seattles Juneteenth Celebrations. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

A group of activists in Snohomish County are moving forward with an initiative — “Cops and Barbers” — to essentially bring together the Black community with law enforcement, despite pushback from some folks in the community, including the president of the local chapter of the NAACP.

Earlier in the week, the Jason Rantz Show spoke with Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney. Three of the activists involved with the initiative — Jisun Jackson, Chris Anderson, and Jordan Jeffries — shared their perspective Wednesday.

Snohomish County Sheriff Fortney responds to criticism of talks on race

“Cops and Barbers was originally planned in an optimistic way, thinking that COVID was going to be more under control by now,” Jeffries said. “It was originally going to be an event that we were going to put on at different barbershops around the city that would be hosted by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s department in concert with the barbers. And we would bring together members of the Black community and police officers just to spend time together as people, to get to know each other personally, and try to bridge the gap and make a connection between them and the community.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has not improved, they’ve moved into what Jeffries called a “micro-version,” with controlled, distanced groups, and have turned it into more of a video project for now, which will hopefully allow time for the barbershops to get on board, get the community behind it, then roll out the program.

The group came up with Cops and Barbers as “an alternative form of creating dialogue with police officers,” Anderson explained.

“The sheriff’s department reached out to us, and they wanted to better relationships, better relations with Black males in Snohomish County,” Anderson added. “So we presented a couple of options, and they loved the Cops and Barbers idea. Through this dialogue, we are going to touch on various topics that are of an urgency to the Black community and hopefully that dialogue then brings a conversation.”

The group believes this is a step in the right direction, and hopes the initiative can eventually be presented to other police departments around Washington, and even nationwide.

Janice Greene, president of the Snohomish County chapter of the NAACP, recently criticized the initiative. Jackson says the group was taken aback by her letter.

“We all are reaching for the same end goal. We have different lanes that we’re going to take to get there –not one is right, not one is wrong. Our approach was to move forward in trying a different method in terms of communicating with law enforcement, bridging that gap by having a conversation,” Jackson explained. “It has to start somewhere, and it may not be something that happens right away, but it’s more of a long-term goal to try to bridge this gap, not just between law enforcement and the Black community, but just humanity and equality overall with systemic racism.”

The event that Greene referred to, as Jackson pointed out, was actually a rough draft of an event agenda.

“We were considering all the factors about COVID and all the safety risks. It was just basically a foundation to begin planning for when the state would reopen in phase three, phase four,” Jackson said. “And so as we were reading the letter and the objections they had to this proposal, we were kind of taken aback because we’re like, this is not us going into the community, having police officers approach young Black males, this is just the the premise behind putting together an event that would provide resources beyond just law enforcement for young Black youth in the community, and other people.”

“There was not a lot of research done to really make a judgment on what we were trying to do, which was, you know, bridging the gap by starting with a conversation,” Jackson added.

“One of the things that our organization does is we always plan for the worst, and we hope for the best,” Jeffries said. “In this case, the worst thing that we could think happened and the very people that we stood with for weeks and weeks and weeks were basically — were ostracizing us, were telling us that we had broken some sort of code.”

“You run into a slippery slope when you have more allies than actual members of the Black community participating in these movements where they start to believe that they can speak for us,” Jeffries added. “And in this case, we were speaking for ourselves and we were being, for lack of a better term, shamed, by politicians, activists alike.”

The group, however, is “pure of purpose,” and their hearts are fully behind this initiative.

“For us, a grassroots organization, to get out there and try to put boots on the ground and get the people speaking about these issues, I would think it’d be celebrated,” Jeffries said. “But apparently we missed the newsletter about what Black people need in this community.”

Even on a Zoom call with the county council, Anderson said a lot of people were chiming in, many of them white, who were basically speaking on behalf of the group.

“I think that what we’re seeing is that politics is real,” Jackson said. “… We’ve noticed, just in the past few months, that a lot of times the people that the politicians are supposed to be speaking for, they’re really, they’re not. And as you said, you know, we’re on this call listening to what other people think should be the best route for us to take when in actuality, we’re speaking on behalf of Black men and Black women to say we feel like this method of bridging the gap, communicating with law enforcement, may just work.”

“And Sheriff Fortney has stood alongside us, and we have been doing this with him and working with him for months before this even came about,” Jackson added. “So as we’re listening to these members of council pass judgment on this budget, which they asked for, it was kind of disheartening to hear people say that they felt like the program itself was racist and sexist when the people working with Sheriff Fortney were a group of Black men and Black women.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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