When the 33 invited participants to Wednesday’s “White House Convening on Building Community Trust” filed into the ornate Eisenhower Executive Office Building, they discovered they would be placed next to improbable seatmates. Rashad Robinson, a black political activist, had Pittsburgh’s police chief, Cameron McLay, on one side of him and Anaheim, Ca., Mayor Tom Tait on the other. Fraternal Order of Police director James Pasco was placed between NAACP President Cornell Brooks and Harvard University economics Prof. Roland Fryer, reports the Washington Post.
It was diversity “by design,” as President Obama said, an unorthodox, four-hour experiment in policymaking through the kind of emotional exchanges that are more often associated with therapeutic encounter sessions than bureaucratic seminars. Interviews with participants suggested it worked. “There’s not a lot of places and spaces for this kind of conversation,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. He added that “the right people were there” to begin to tackle the challenge of reexamining how policing is done and how protesters should engage with law enforcement. “I hope it kind of strengthened their guts for the task that lies ahead.”
Initially, the gathering was formal. “After about an hour,” recalled J.B. Jennings, a Republican who serves as minority leader of the Maryland Senate, “people got comfortable, and people began to speak their mind and say what they really felt.”
The hastily arranged meeting came a day after Obama traveled to Dallas to memorialize five police officers slain last week by an African-American man who said he wanted to kill white people. That attack unfolded during a peaceful protest of the killings days earlier of two black men, in Baton Rouge, La., and outside St. Paul at the hands of the police. Both police shootings were captured on videotape.
See earlier report on meeting.