Law enforcement and community members came together Friday evening for the “We’re in this Together” event in central Fresno.
Dozens of people attended the event at the Great American Car Wash on Blackstone Avenue, where owner and event organizer A.J. Rassamni hoped to give the community a look at what it takes to be part of law enforcement in Fresno County. He also gave community members a chance to voice their opinion on the relationship between law enforcement and the public.
And that, Rassamni said, meant hearing from proponents of both the Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter movements.
The event also included giving awards to members of the community, including Jose Sanchez, who saved a baby from a burning car near Caruthers nearly a year ago.
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Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims were among the law enforcement officials on hand to speak and answer questions from the community.
Dyer said he remembers a time when police officers were considered heroes. “It’s our job to work with the community to get that back,” he said.
“The expectations that people have of law enforcement today sometimes are unrealistic,” he said. “Police officers are expected to know the unknown and see the unseen and make split-second decisions. (It’s) a tough profession.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters Central Valley joined with Fresno police officer Katrina Lloyd to encourage officers to become mentors with the organization to reach out to kids while they are still young. Lloyd said part of her job at a middle school is helping children see the positive side of law enforcement.
Karen Crozier, an associate professor of practical theology and director of faculty development and diversity at Fresno Pacific University, spoke about the need for people of color to feel safe in front of uniformed officers. “What can law enforcement do to make you feel safe when you step out onto the streets at night?” she asked. “Until black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.”
Selma Police Chief Greg Gardner talked about changing a common phrase used in police officer training. “ ‘The most important thing is that at the end of your shift, you go home alive,’ ” Gardner said. “I said that countless times when I was teaching. Just tweak it a little bit. Tell them, teach them, encourage them that the most important thing at the end of your shift is that everyone goes home alive.”
Rassamni said he was in Gardner’s office talking about Friday’s event when Gardner stopped him and said, “Why should it be either us or them? Why shouldn’t it be both of us?”
Rassamni ended the event by talking about his own experience with racism. Growing up in Africa, Rassamni wasn’t aware that there was a race problem – until he came to the U.S. in the 1980s.
He said he was glad the speakers only voiced their own opinions instead blaming each other. “Never point your finger to another person,” he said. “I wanted each one to hear the other side and understand that we’re in this together.”