Former UT Athletes, Austin Police Discuss Race Relations

FullSizeRender (1)

The weeks leading up to a decision by NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho, BS ’11, to host a panel at the University of Texas on race relations July 14 were weary ones. Just one week had passed since the fatal shooting of five Dallas police officers by a lone gunman at a demonstration meant to protest shootings by police just days earlier in Louisiana and Minnesota that resulted in the deaths of two black men. By then, Acho had decided enough was enough.

“It is time to address this matter more seriously,” Acho said during the panel, which was live-streamed on Longhorn Network. “I want to start an open dialogue with those in power, those in authority, and between African-Americans.”

Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo, the first Hispanic to lead APD, joined Acho along with five other panelists to talk about the current relationship between police officers and minority communities, both locally and nationally. Also in attendance were Carolina Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker, BA ’10, MA ’12; Olympic gold medalist and track-and-field athlete Natasha Hastings; UT education professor Louis Harrison; APD chief of staff Brian Manley; and assistant chief Frank Dixon.

Acevedo, who has been with the police department since 2007, said improving the relationship between officers and the community is a work in progress—one that will likely never end. He said leaders of the police force need to engage their officers in holding each other accountable and treating people with respect.

“The number one thing we should not tolerate is mediocrity,” Acevedo said. “We should not tolerate abuse, not tolerate treating anybody wrongly. We must pursue perfection at all costs.”

Some of the panelists agreed that stereotypes play a large role in the ways that officers and the community interact. Harrison said people need to consciously step back from their immediate presumptions about others, noting that when strangers see him they may base their judgment of him solely on his skin color. Hastings said that when she travels she does her best to avoid drawing any attention to herself. And Dixon said, even though he’s an officer, “when I’m not working, let’s just say I don’t get the best customer service.”

“We’ve got to stop painting everybody with broad brushes,” Acevedo said.  “We as a nation have to come together.”

Dixon said there are a number of ways APD tries to integrate officers with the community, like its Citizen Police Academy. The program runs for 14 weeks, aiming to give the public an understanding of how APD functions. During training, APD has a community-immersion requirement that sends cadets out to meet with citizens. Dixon said that way, the first time APD officers encounter an African-American or someone from the LGBT community isn’t on the street after they’re already fully vested officers.

“They come back with a really deep understanding and their eyes open,” he said. “But that can’t just be here in Austin. It needs to be across the nation.”

(From left) APD Chief of Staff Brian Manley, Olympic gold medalist Natasha Hastings, UT education professor Louis Harrison, NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho, APD Chief Art Acevedo, Carolina Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker, and assistant chief Frank Dixon; photo by Danielle Lopez.


Tags: , , ,


No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment