Police Chief Proposes “Uncomfortable Conversation” About Race

steps, Metra Station, Park Forest
Steps at a Metra Station in Park Forest. (Photo: PFPD)

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Police Chief Christopher Mannino began Friday what he hoped was an “honest conversation,” but admitted it might be an “uncomfortable conversation” about race. The conversation appeared as a post on the PFPD’s Facebook page, challenging the assumptions some make with respect to the appearance of other people.

The following is the police chief’s post-as-written. Your comments are welcome at the end of this story or jump on over to the PFPD’s Facebook page to share your thoughts.

“Could we have an honest, and maybe uncomfortable conversation?” Chief Mannino asks.

This morning as I drove into work, I heard over my radio our officers dispatched to a call of a woman at the train station parking lot, afraid to use the stairs pictured here because two black men, one in a hoodie, were sitting on the steps.

Calls like this are not unusual in policing, regardless of race- in fact, they are very common, but given the national discussion on race right now, this call raised my curiosity. What is the race of the caller? What, if anything, are the men doing besides sitting on the stairs? How would our officers respond? How would the men respond to knowing the police had been called?

And so I went on the call as well.

Now clearly one could point to violations or potential violations the men were committing. Blocking a public path is not allowed, and no trespassing signs are posted (only a violation if they weren’t using the train services), but it is also not difficult to assume that the call would not have been placed had it not been young men, and as much as I wish it weren’t so, we cannot ignore their race as being a possible factor in the call being placed.

Both as a Chief of Police, and generally as a person, I don’t want a woman walking alone to the train feeling uncomfortable or afraid, and we encourage people to call the police when they feel this way or if they see something suspicious. But also as a Chief of Police, and as a person, I don’t want young black men feeling like they are being looked at as dangerous or a threat while engaged in largely harmless behavior. And this puts law enforcement in a difficult position.

We want you to call when something doesn’t seem right or you feel afraid. We also want all people treated fairly, with dignity, and to feel a valued part of the community. And sometimes law enforcement is put in situations where these two goals seem to be in conflict.

If you believe that there is going to be a simple solution at the end of this post, there isn’t. What we at the Park Forest Police Department focus on is making sure our officers respond to all calls with an open mind, and treat whoever we come in contact with in a way that leaves them feeling respected.

In the end, the caller remained anonymous and when we showed up, both the men and the caller had moved on. We won’t know the race or age of the caller, but to be fair, with the demographics of Park Forest it is just as likely that the caller shared the race of the men as not. And we won’t know the story of the men who almost had an encounter with the police. But what we do know is that race is a frequent and sometimes uncomfortable topic in America right now, and law enforcement is often at the heart of it. Most times, it’s not by our own choosing.

While there may be no immediate solution, any possible solution begins with open and transparent dialogue. So what are your thoughts? What are your experiences? Please share, I only ask that you keep the discourse respectful and mindful that there are many different experiences that shape our individual perspectives.

-Chief Christopher Mannino Editor’s Note: Here’s WBBM’s story on this post. They must have seen our story because they borrowed our take on the story, our headline, for their own.

Your comments are also welcome at [email protected]