BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Inside St. Luke's Episcopal's Witter Hall, residents and leaders exchanged hugs and warm greetings. The welcoming atmosphere Tuesday night was a far cry from chaos seen in Missouri a few weeks ago when an unarmed Black teen was shot and killed by a White police officer. However, it was that violence that inspired this very meeting between Baton Rouge law enforcement, city leaders, and worried residents.
"One of the things that became clear to us was that there was a lack of communication between the community and law enforcement," said Rodney Braxton, chairman of The Young Leaders Academy. "We thought it would be proper to get in front of those kinds of issues and start talking now rather than after some event."
The meeting is a community dinner with emphasis on unity. It was coordinated by the Young Leaders Academy, a group dedicated to training African American men to become leaders and role models in the community. The organizers explain that the dinner is a chance for everyone to talk openly and honestly about the relationship between young men and the people who took an oath to serve and protect.
"There's a lot of bad press going around that police and young men in our community can't get along and there's issues there. We want to fix that. We don't want that stereotype," explained Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie.
From concerns about interacting with police officers to the importance of positive role models for young men, the leaders here say an open dialogue is the first step to crossing the lines between cultures and badges.
"If you're going to be progressive, if you want to be welcoming, if you want to be a great city then you have to have this type of dialogue," said Braxton.
Next organizers will take the concerns brought up in during these discussions and decide how best to find a solution.