GOSHEN — After a year of holding presentations for the Latino community to interact with the Goshen Police Department, local pastors and officials came together to discuss the highlights of the presentations, what they learned, and what they still need to overcome.
The coalition leading this initiative is also looking ahead to future presentations and meetings in the community.
Gilberto Perez, social studies professor at Goshen College and president of Bienvenido Community Solutions, was one of the first organizers of the presentations.
He spoke with Goshen Police chief Wade Branson, the Community Relations Commission and local pastors about the idea of having meetings in which the Latino community would learn about how law enforcement works in Goshen and Elkhart County. Perez then formed a coalition to coordinate the presentations.
He spoke with pastors from different churches, including St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Iglesia Menonita del Buen Pastor and Comunidad Cristiana Adulam.
The CRC gave the coalition a $2,800 grant to help it cover the costs of radio public service announcements and interviews and compensations for meeting facilitators.
The result was 10 presentations at different churches throughout Goshen where congregants and police sorted out some of their differences in an open environment, and where both groups learned from each other.
On Tuesday, June 3, some of the pastors involved in the project, Branson and Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman got together to talk about their experiences and offer feedback about the presentations.
"Originally I thought that the law enforcement, Sheriff Rogers, Detective Mario Mora and I, would educate the Latino congregations on police procedure and what we did," Branson said during the meeting. "What I learned, though, was that I was being educated all the time about the community. I found out that the Latino community were very family-oriented, very caring and very religious. And after this program has ended I find that I am more in tune with the community."
As hard as it is to quantify the level of success of the presentations, there was talk during the meeting about other possible presentations in the future.
"We can quantify, not with big numbers but with small initiatives, and we build on those numbers for the future," Perez said. "I think another powerful thing is you have spiritual leaders encouraging the congregants to pray for the officials. And that's hard to quantify, but qualitatively, its the relationship, the trust building of two groups, two systems, learning to interact together."
Kauffman, who attended a couple of the meetings and one of the presentations, also had positive feedback about the initiative.
"From the police standpoint they need to get the confidence of the Latino community so that they do report a crime and are not afraid of being deported," he said. "I think everyone, whether Latino or Angle, wants the same thing, and that is to have a safe community to work and raise your kids."
Rev. David Araujo, pastor of La Iglesia Menonita del Buen Pastor, said he received overwhelmingly positive feedback from his congregants following the two presentations at his church.
The effect the presentation had on some of the congregants was such that two of them followed up later with police. One of them, a man native from Cuba, went with Araujo to the police department to talk with Branson about an incident that had happened years ago and had left him feeling humiliated.
"It really affected him, and he never dealt with it, so as a result of that he had some negative feelings and even some bitterness toward Goshen police," Araujo said. "That was something addressed and changed because of the way the chief was able to help us personally."
There are still some areas that need to be addressed by not only police, but other entities, like the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Many of the questions asked during the presentations were some that had to be addressed by the BMV, Branson said during the meeting Tuesday.
Another idea is to have similar presentations in which the community can talk with officials about other issues, like building and coding.
"So often the issues between neighbors aren't race related. But it has to do with behavior, not color of skin," Kauffman said. "People come to this country from areas where they don't have the same rules. So if you grow up a certain way, why would you operate differently where you move unless somehow you got educated that the expectations are different in the new place?"
Araujo said he thinks there is an urgent need to have a discussion among neighborhoods, given some of the negative feedback they read from community members who submitted letters to editors.
"I think perhaps now it would be good, before we do any other kind of dialogues with other groups, whether it be the BMV, I think perhaps the next step would be to talk with Goshen neighborhoods."