It was a Sunday afternoon and along with the Wichita, KS., Police Department, members of the community for Black Lives Matter joined in the fellowship. Dubbed The First Steps Community Cookout--referring to the goal of its endeavor of bridging the void that undoubtedly stands between police officers and the members of their local community they so serve--the cookout served to stand in lieu of a protest, which had originally been planned for Sunday. Wichita Police Chief, Gordon Ramsay had an extended tete-a-tete with the activist, A.J. Bohannon, as well as other members of Black Lives Matter. Bohannon spoke to member station KMUW that, following the fatal attack on police officers in Baton Rouge; the cookout advanced a great importance even further under the volatile scrutiny of allegations of police brutality.
"We can get on the same page and say those things that are in Baton Rouge don't trickle over into Wichita, KS.," Bohannon told KMUW. "My heart goes out to the families, those officers in Baton Rouge, but I think the fact that that did happen makes this event more meaningful. I definitely think this is a stat for this community, and I definitely want to keep it going."
The gathering held distinct and documented scenes of vast amounts of police officers and officials--many wearing tactical gear such as radios, handcuffs and their firearms (regulatory, of course, but the philosophy behind their gear correlating to a predominantly black community is a vision which takes an unprecedented sight to many, especially those of an elderly age having lived through the civil rights movement in the 1960's) --mingling, speaking, eating and even dancing with residents. Basketball was even played.
Social media took the cookout and made it instantly viral, with Wichita Mayor, Jeff Longwell noting the occasion on his own Facebook feed. With actual police officers mingling, laughing, eating and dancing with what was originally a planned protest of Black Lives Matter, hits and popularity exceeded that of even Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian; toping the list of highest trending topics.
One photo taken during the event drew palpable notice and somewhat skeptical responses in which it showed one of the youths, MarQuell Woods, standing amidst a vast group of officers and absent of any smile. MarQuell Woods stated in a post later to an update of his Facebook page stating that he was "playing basketball with students from West High School. I should have smiled, I guess, but we were having fun." It should be noted with any sports playing person, young or old, that in the incursion of competition, even in the form of friendly rivalry, it is imperative you adorn your "game face". Students at college campuses playing an impromptu game of night Volleyball of exhibited that competitive and even aggressive drive when trying so hard to make that winning score. That unsmiling face of MarQuell Woods is merely the product of an "I'm going to win this game" look we can all surely appreciate.
One mother of her children who stood in photos called the whole event absolutely historic. She said, "It was a bonding moment where the police saw them as children and my [sons] got to see them as people! It was a great first step, Chief Gordon Ramsey and Wichita, PD!"
As reported by the Wichita Eagle from another scene of the cookout: "At one table, three men--a black man, a Hispanic man and a white man--sat down with burgers next to police Lt. Travis Rakestraw to share their ideas. It was the first time since 1992 that Jarvis Scott, the black man, said he'd sat down with a police officer, and the other two said it was their first time ever sitting down with an officer [at all]."
Ramsay thanked gratuitously all who came and issued a bold challenge to the police departments all around to hold their own barbecue. "It takes two parties to make a healthy relationship," the police chief said.
A Twitter user wrote quite pleasingly: "This makes me happy! First time in a while that anything in the news made me smile. There is hope."
Discrimination exists in all ways and functions of life. Even by looking upon a piece of food, which looks quite unappetizing, we discriminate, for we cannot truly know how that food will taste unless we actually eat it. But, analogies aside, what we can focus on is, instead of reaching first for our protest signs and riot batons, maybe we should instead reach for a spatula and even a good "cold one". Back even in the Middle Ages the greatest forms of peacemaking amidst rival enemies was done over a good brew and a foot-stomping song. Song and steak goes quite further than filling an empty belly: filling emptiness in our souls, which merely needed laughter.