This past month, members of the Chirilagua community had an opportunity to practice trust-building with members of the Alexandria Police Department. To connect with and understand the needs of our community, Chief Brown and a handful of other officers asked to come to our community center and meet with members of our community. Their hope was to listen and understand, making themselves available to the community and hear from our neighbors what they wanted to see in the neighborhood.
In many immigrant communities, lack of documentation and language barriers often deter families from engaging with officers if there is not a need to.
As we extended the invitation for community members to participate in this listening session, we were grateful to find that they were willing to come to Casa Chirilagua for this conversation, largely because of the trust we have built with them through years of relationship. Acting as a bridge between the community and the city’s police officers, our community center became the backdrop for an honest conversation between our neighbors and the police officers that work in it.
As Chief Brown opened the conversation, asking families to share about what they wanted to see in our neighborhood, one by one the 15 adults in attendance began to share honestly and openly. They talked about parks and public spaces where families gather with one another in, asking for support from the police officers in making these spaces safer and more comfortable for them. They shared that they didn’t see as many officers on foot walking through the neighborhood, and asked for officers to do that once again, as their presence and engagement with the community brought about a sense of safety and security. The officers listened intently and committed to following up with the community’s requests. Chief Brown shared openly about how the APD is seeking to evaluate their own department to ensure that they are a positive presence in the community and welcomed continued feedback from all of those who live in Chirilagua.
This night was a powerful one. As the United States seeks to have a national conversation about policing in communities across the country, it was a blessing for Casa’s community center to be a space where community members could live out a culture of honor and choose to be people who build trust with others. Trust is an important component of community; building it means actively listening to one another, communicating honestly about what is needed in the relationship, and always assuming the best of one another. Our neighbors stepped up in courage to share their stories and experiences and the officers in attendance stepped into vulnerability as they listened with humility and kindness. Our hope is that conversations like this are just one in a list of many opportunities for trust-building to happen between the Chirilagua community and other neighbors in the city. As our neighbors press into trust-building with Casa, with one another, and with others who live in our city, they are a part of building a safer community for us all.
– Marissa Salgado, Programs Director