As like any community, Kenosha is comprised of individuals with different interests, opinions and goals in life However after what our community went through last summer most everyone would agree that there needs to be some meaningful changes.
There is no shortage of opinion as to how last year’s civil unrest and destruction should have been handled. There is also a number of thoughts and opinions as to why it happened in our community.
However if common ground is to be found it’s going to come from individuals willing to rethink business as usual. Under the right leadership, adversity can sometimes result in positive change to the status quo. It can bring people together to effect change and formulate a new common goal. Admittedly we may not all agree on how we should arrive or achieve those goals but what’s important is the desire is there to do so.
Behind the scenes our community leaders have been working tirelessly with individuals from all walks of life sharing a common goal of affecting change so hopefully last year’s August events never happen again. It will not be an easy task and it will take time and a certain amount of trial and error to achieve success. However the encouraging news is there has been significant and meaningful dialogue that is now being put into play.
One example of this played out on Monday’s edition of HAPPENINGS Q&A/AM1050WLIP when interim police chief Eric Larsen returned to our airwaves and brought along with him Nick Dennis. Nick is the president of the Kenosha Coalition Organizing Resolution or KCOR for short. The members of this newly organized group call themselves The Interrupters.
Possibly you have seen the 2011 documentary “The Interrupters” and if so you have seen how they can play a significant role in conflict resolution.
“Historically, we as police officers, we respond to violent crime. We are not there typically when it happens. We respond to the aftermath,” says interim police chief Eric Larsen.
In the radio interview, Nick shared with listeners that KCOR was formed to help enlighten and educate the community as well as provide further insight on how the police department could handle or diffuse certain situations.
Dennis is a black man, and a resident of Kenosha county, himself. He is also the father of three young men, and one of the main reasons why he wanted to help jumpstart this group in Kenosha is because he wants this city to be a better, safer place for his children. “I shouldn’t have to worry about that [the police pulling his sons over] here…with the officers that’s here in Kenosha, we’re supposed to have a better relationship than that because we’re so small…It’s not just the police we always have problems with…white people in the community, when everything was going on [this year], I’ve seen a couple of white people standing outside on corners with their guns…it wasn’t just the police as our issue, it was [that] we as a community need to start liking each other.”
Police Chief Eric Larsen agreed with Dennis, stating, “The interesting thing is that we both want the same thing…we didn’t, in the past, know how to get to that point [of hearing one another out], and that’s what we’re working on…we both want community safety. We both have the same goals, it’s just that we had never worked on that connection and how to do it.”
When asked to further elaborate on what efforts have been made by the Kenosha Police Department thus far, Larsen stated that there was too much of a divide between the police and the community. More specifically, there was a large divide between the police and the black community. So, like Dennis expressed, Larsen also agreed that those barriers needed to be stripped down so conversations could be had. “We are putting people on walking beats…” Larsen began, “…you can’t make a connection when you’re behind steel doors and windows of a car…the point [of this] is you maximize the time that you can [by forming connections with community residents] when you can, where you can. We had the opportunity recently for The Interrupters to build relations [with our police department] when we brought trainers in from Chicago, [including] Tio Hardiman, the guy that kind of started everything [with The Interrupters] down in Chicago. In that training we had officers…and also The Interrupters. So we put the two groups together to work together and build those relations. And we did one exercise that’s called a peace circle, where everyone got in a circle and it was moderated, and we had a discussion about roles in the community and things like that, and it’s something that’s never really been done here before.”
Dennis, who was present during this event, said, “That circle was an intense circle…You’ve got to put certain officers in real life situations on the outside [hypothetically speaking] and see what their answers will be on that side, and if you see any flaws in that officer you check it [and correct them] right then and there…you got to take the right ideas from the group to the new guys [the officers not present at the circle].”
When asked if this experience changed his view of the police and if Chief Larsen was “one of the good guys”, Dennis responded, “You don’t have a lot of guys that’s willing to go the distance like the chief. I don’t trust the police. I trust Eric, but it’s a different thing.”
Dennis then went on to explain that, “I don’t work for the police…the people haven’t had this [a group like the KCOR to speak on their behalf], they haven’t had nobody that they can call on…In some situations the police shouldn’t come.” Dennis described how not every scenario that occurs requires police involvement, and he then spoke about the different ways in which The Interrupters could prevent certain situations from escalating into something more serious, therefore eliminating the need for the police (in these scenarios). However, Dennis then goes on to say that there does come a point in particular scenarios when the police do have to intervene. Now again, with the help of The Interrupters, hopefully when a situation does escalate to a point of needing police involvement, they (the police) will be informed on how to properly handle said situation.
“The best decision [that I have made] is being an interrupter and being a role model to other kids,” Dennis exclaimed. “The whole group got courage and we know what we’re walking into…most of the people on the team are from Kenosha, they’re from the community…They believe in the community and looking out for the community.”
The Interrupters not only inspire other kids, but adults as well. Larsen stated that one of the main reasons why he was so eager to get involved with the Kenosha Interrupters group was because he had watched the 2011 American documentary of the same name “The Interrupters”. He said that the documentary showed how effective and powerful the group (The Interrupters) was, and how much positive change they created. He then spoke about how he actually was able to meet up with a few of the Interrupters who were a part of the documentary (one of those individuals being Tio Hardiman [who was mentioned earlier]).
Dennis then went on to say how one of his favorite things is seeing people within the community, from all walks of life, come together and stand as one. He believes that we as a community can achieve that unity, and that people just need to take the time to stop and reevaluate who they are, and continually strive to better themselves. “In order to be where I’m at you’ve got to be able to work on yourself. If you can’t work on yourself then you can’t be no interrupter…I got kicked out of the eleventh grade, but then I went back to school and got my HSED. I went back to school for HVAC. I went back to school after I felt like I didn’t want to do that…so you know, you got to be able to work on yourself throughout this whole time.”
Both Police Chief Eric Larsen and KCOR President Nick Dennis believe that coming together and making change happen is possible. Both men believe that we can create a more peaceful and welcoming community for ourselves and the future generation of Kenoshians. Like Dennis said, the change starts with us. So, let’s all take a step back, reevaluate our goals, and let’s make some change. And I think most of us would agree with Chief Larsen’s last sentence.
If you would like to learn more about The Interrupters, check out the 2011 documentary The Interrupters (which can be found on Amazon Prime Video, Youtube, Google Play and Apple TV). This documentary follows three interrupters -Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra- in Chicago as they try to help their community as it suffers from a large increase in crime rates.
By Frank Carmichael
(This article first appeared in the 6/17/21 issue of the Smart reader)