Columbia youth, law enforcement discuss ways to strengthen ties

WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - As fallout from Ferguson, Missouri continues to unravel, some are now using what happened as a learning tool.

A tool to foster better ties between police and the people they serve.

That was the focus of a special forum Saturday morning in West Columbia. Organizers say having that dialogue between police and the public is a good thing.

The Brotherhood Ministry at Brookland Baptist Church hosted the event, looking to engage the minds of young people.

Law enforcement officials from several agencies came out to talk and also listen.

Six police officers would use the forum to offer perspective. Both on community protection in the Midlands, as well as events on the national stage.

Many young men like Justin Blunts would come with questions.

"I really haven't heard much about the Ferguson thing... so I was wondering how people would react," said Blunts, who is a high school freshman.

Across the U.S., there have been many views shared on the death of Michael Brown, a Missouri teenager, shot multiple times by a police officer who claimed the shooting was an act of self-defense.

Some say, the protests and unrest that followed in Ferguson stem from months of closed lines, between law enforcement and the public.

"That is critical in this time and age," said Capt. Mark Jones with the Lexington County Sheriff's Department. "It's more critical now than ever that we have that dialogue."

There were times when the conversation would grow tense. While some would air concerns over racial profiling, officers in turn would explain why using force sometimes becomes necessary.

Both sides would agree that in order to build safer communities everyone must come together.

"We don't want any Ferguson in the state of South Carolina," Jones said. "We want to make sure that we're transparent. That we're up front, we're open."

The outreach also will have to come through kids like Justin.

"People saying rumors about police, how they're all bad and they're always trying to kill someone," Blunts said. "Really the question is what's behind the stories."

As well as what can be done to find the facts.

Police also say that work has to come from parents as they advise their children at home.

They say people who don't trust law enforcement very likely can pass those fears onto their kids.

And while their concerns of distrust may be valid, one point made was public perception is key.

If law enforcement seems to be withholding information or slow to release information, which happened in Ferguson, that only increases the public's distrust.

Law enforcement officials said Saturday they would like to see this dialogue continue --- outside of Saturday morning's forum.

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