One month ago, one conversation sparked change in both a department and a movement.
“It’s about building relationships in our community to make us better,” Community advocate, Antoine Malone said.
Malone said he met Capt. Paul Kifer during a protest for police accountability after officers with the Hagerstown Police Department said a 15-year old girl was pepper sprayed for resisting arrest. Malone said meeting Capt. Kifer changed his life.
“This seems right… there’s a spark with this one that I can’t really describe but it’s got a lot of energy going inside me,” Capt. Paul Kifer said.
Two years ago, Malone said he would only say four words to officers: I need my lawyer. But after hours of honest conversations with officers, he’s opened up.
“You feel the genuineness, once you get to know a person outside of who they are in the police uniform and that’s very much important,” Malone said.
Now, he’s working alongside them to teach at-risk kids to trust officers through a mentorship program in local schools.
“I’ve been through it all. From prison, fights, shootings, I’ve done it all. I lost my hope from 18 to 25 [years old] and that’s not something I want a young kid to do,” Malone said.
Their approach of community conversation is already having an immediate impact.
“I apologize to you, the mothers, the children, the fathers, everyone that was a part of this,” Aaron Gettel, a Hagerstown resident who coal-rolled protesters, said.
He said he smoked those at the protest because he thought it would be funny, but he’s had a change of heart after speaking with Malone.
“I do want to help you guys, [I want to] help us,” Gettel said.
Officers are also working on using Facebook Live to stream their community conversations and open them up to everyone.
“The bigger community can see the conversation in real time, can comment, can be involved,” Capt. Kifer said.
But in order to have productive, effective conversations officers and organizers said it is a lot less about finding the right words and a lot more about hearing them.
“I have to be willing to go in first and listen and understand before demanding to be heard and understood,” Pastor of Lifehouse Church, Patrick Grach said.
For now, officers said they are policing our communities and preaching community involvement.
“We live in this community, we are from this community, and we serve this community, therefore we love this community,” Detective Nick Varner said.
Malone is working with police through his organization TRU, which stands for Teach, Reach, and Unite. They are meeting with principals across Washington County to see when Police and community activists can speak directly to students.