RIT students host forum to build bond between community and police

They say civil dialog will help reduce tensions between police and the community

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A group of Rochester Institute of Technology students is hoping to build a bond between civil servants and the community by holding a barbecue and discussion on campus with uniformed emergency personnel from Rochester.

“We’re planning to address community issues with police across the country while building a foundation of trust, transparency and understanding,” said student Chib Onwunaka. “We want them to better know the community they serve.”

The event, Stand Strong & Unite, will be held 1:30-6 p.m. Oct. 1 on RIT’s Greek Lawn. It is sponsored by RIT’s Black Awareness Coordinating Committee with support from RIT’s Office of the President.

Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli, Deputy Chief Wayne Harris and several Rochester police officers are expected to attend, as will members from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and RIT Public Safety, organizers said.

“I appreciate this opportunity to have a dialog with the students who attend this event, and I look forward to an exchange of ideas that will help all of us,” Ciminelli said.

The public is also invited, and reservations are appreciated. Games, food and entertainment are planned with students from RIT, the University of Rochester and the Rochester City School District. Volunteers from RIT’s Gray Matter Discussion team will facilitate small group discussions.

Onwunaka, a second-year sustainable systems graduate student from Newark, N.J., conceived the idea a couple of months ago as tensions grew in communities after citizens were killed by police.

“This is not a political thing,” he said. “We’re hearing from people who are afraid when they walk down the street. We understand the work police do isn’t easy. With that being said, it’s important they need to understand the community they serve as well. The community will totally back them up when they know who they are.”

Even though Rochester hasn’t experienced national scrutiny for police and community tensions, Onwunaka said it is important to be proactive to help prevent such incidents.

“Even if it doesn’t happen in Rochester, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care,” he said. “This is not a time to be hating. This is a time for healing.”

“Respect has to come from both sides,” said Felicia Lee, an organizer of the event and a second-year philosophy major from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Other RIT sponsors of the event include Student Government, Campus Life, Gray Matters, Q Life, Counseling and Psychological Services, Multicultural Center for Academic Services, RIT Ombuds Office and Women of Color, Honor and Ambition.

More information may be found on the event’s Facebook page.