In a wide-ranging discussion that covered topics such as trust between residents and law enforcement, diversity and immigration, local officials and community leaders shared how Tyler can move forward together in spite of people’s differences.
“We thought this was a wonderful opportunity to bring together a very unique panel no matter what sector of the community they represent,” moderator and attorney Nick Pesina said.
About 30 people attended the Strength in Unity Community Panel Discussion on Thursday at Tyler Junior College. Eleven people served as panelists.
The event was made possible through a grant from the Texas Young Lawyers Association.
The Smith County Young Lawyers Association and the Tyler Junior College Hispanic Student Organization put it on.
In addressing the idea of building trust, Jeff Williams, with the Tyler Together Race Relations Forum, said trust only comes through time and consistency in people’s practice and character and it requires continuous dialogue over time.
“We have too many people who put stakes in the ground and they don’t just want to put a stake in the ground, they want to cement it in,” he said. “… I encourage you to take the time to meet someone and to get to know someone who’s not like you. You know, if all your friends and all of your associates look like you and do the same thing you do today, then you’ve stagnated yourself from growing.”
Gilbert Urbina Jr., with the Hispanic American Association of East Texas, said community members must take responsibility and stand up to help when and where they can.
Tyler/Smith County NAACP President Cedrick Granberry said empathy is a key part of building trust.
“You have to dig deep inside to try and understand and look at things through a different lens,” he said.
Tyler Police Chief Jimmy Toler said the department’s whole goal is “to do everything we can to preserve the peace in the city of Tyler.”
Developing that trust, though, is only going to happen as officers have the opportunity to show people why they can be trusted, he said.
“Until I have the opportunity to show you how we can help you, you’re really not going to understand,” he said.
They are there to hold people accountable when someone does something improper to a person in the community, he said.
Although the public does not see it, the department does reprimand officers and has walked officers out of law enforcement because of behavior, he said.
“This city holds their employees accountable,” he said.
Tyler District 2 City Councilman Darryl Bowdre said one thing that would help build rapport between law enforcement and the community is a more diverse police force, which will only come about through more recruiting.
He said the city and police chief are working very hard on this front. However, they need community members and organizations to help.
“One of the things that’s going to help curb things in our community is when little children in our community can look and interact with officers that look like them that they can relate to,” Bowdre said.
In addressing questions about Senate Bill 4, which allows peace officers to ask people they legally detain or arrest about their immigration status, Toler said it gives officers the authority to ask the question, but they have no authority to arrest a person for an immigration violation.
“Our officers are interested in enforcing state law (immigration violations fall under federal law) and keeping this city safe,” Toler said.
Furthermore, he said, there are protections in place to ensure that questions about immigration status cannot be asked of a crime victim unless that information is material to the investigation.
In closing, Pesina encouraged attendees to get out of their spheres and have difficult conversations or at least listen to people with different viewpoints.
He also asked Williams to share about how Tyler Together fosters inclusiveness.
“We honor people wherever they are, whoever they are and whatever they choose to be,” Williams said.
Then he added, “You know, first thing we ought to do is learn how to love our neighbor, I mean really love our neighbor. And then know your neighbor. Love ’em, then known ’em, and then work with them. That’s what we do in Tyler Together. We figure out what we have in common and work on that.”