During this week of horrific loss it is really hard to find anything to celebrate. But there is something in my tiny little state of Rhode Island that that has me grateful and relieved and even cautiously optimistic.
And it seems quite fitting that this joint effort by state and city leaders launched its second season last night in Providence during the very same hours that our nation, already on edge over police shootings of black men, found ourselves witness to a growing death toll of Dallas police officers, gunned down by a sniper on the very streets they protect and patrol nightly. And the irony can’t be lost on any of us that Dallas has been a national leader on transparency and accountability within their police force. They have also seen a dramatic drop in complaints of excessive force by their police officers; according to the most recent data, complaints have decreased from about 147 in 2009 to only 13 filed so far this year. Chief Brown has been at the helm since 2010 and attributes the decrease in excessive force to a shift towards de-escalation.
But now, despite being a national model for police reform, they grieve. And we grieve with them.
Despite his own profound grief, Kobi Dennis, founder of Project Night Vision, continues onward in his quest to reduce gun violence, and improve community relationships. 54 teams totaling 540 participants, including police officers, have signed up to play in the midnight basketball league. The state police have fielded a team themselves.
Kobi Dennis, a black man who grew up hating police officers, now spends much of his time trying to help inner city youth develop stronger relationships with police.
Dennis, a community advocate and founder of Project Night Vision, says he cried Thursday morning when he saw a widely circulated video that shows the shooting death of a black man during a motor-vehicle stop in Minnesota.
But after the emotion, Dennis went back to work Thursday night, joining state police Col. Steven O’Donnell and Providence’s police chief, Col. Hugh T. Clements Jr., for the launch of the Rhode Island Midnight Basketball League season.
Providence Police saw the impact of the program last year during its inaugural year.
Last year we had some success where we would see people on the street,” said O’Donnell. “They would interact with our troopers. They knew each other from the basketball league. Our philosophy is sports is the greatest connector.
So thank you to all of the community leaders — Governor Raimondo, Mayor Elorza, Providence Police Chief Colonel Hugh Clements, state and local police, town managers, and mayors– for your efforts and collaboration to give communities a chance to connect as players and spectators on these summer nights that we know can turn deadly fast.
And kids, thank you for signing up. This is an opportunity for you to talk to police, ask them questions, and share your thoughts…and then go try to kick their butts on the basketball court.
Now go have some fun on those hardwoods.
And stay safe, everyone.