Washington Redskins players have demonstrated their concerns in the stadium with police brutality this season. Now, they’re continuing the dialogue off the field.
Twenty-seven players met with high-ranking police officials in the D.C. area Monday to begin a conversation about how both organizations can seek a solution to a national issue. There were plenty of questions left unanswered on the complicated issue, but the forum was viewed as a productive platform from both parties as they got a better understanding of their perspectives.
There were about 40 people on hand for the meeting that lasted two and half hours. It was set up by the team’s chaplain, Brett Fuller, Redskins Director of Player Development Malcolm Blacken and cooperation from four police departments and county sheriff offices — Fairfax County Chief of Police Col. Edward Roessler Jr., Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman, Leesburg Chief of Police Gregory Brown and Prince George’s County Chief of Police Hank Stawinski.
Washington’s interim chief of police, Peter Newsham, could not attend because of a previous obligation, and the police department’s alternative officials were occupied with training.
“This is important for us to connect with the communities that we serve, especially to a group of folks that are community heroes,” said Chapman, who works in the county where Redskins Park is located and where many Redskins players live. “People look up to NFL players, and it’s important that they understand what’s going on from our perspective and that we understand what they’re going through and what they see their friends going through. Without that kind of understanding, without that kind of listening and empathy, we’re never going to come together.”
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who has been the most vocal player on the Redskins about the subject, was among the players who met with law enforcement officials at Redskins Park on his off day, after Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Detroit Lions on the road. He felt the discussion was mainly a positive experience. Jackson said he wants police officers to feel like they can talk to African Americans and that he was able to gain insight on police training and police reform policies that have taken place on a micro level.
Jackson was one of four players who lifted his balled-up fist during the national anthem in protest Sept. 25 during Washington’s Week 3 road game against the New York Giants. He has spoken out about police brutality ever since, even wearing customized cleats the following week against the Cleveland Browns with a caution tape design. He was later fined by the NFL for violating its uniform policy. Stawinski said he respected Jackson for using his voice to protest in attempt to bring light to the issue, and the department never considered boycotting Redskins games at FedEx Field in Landover — unlike the Santa Clara police union’s response to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest that initiated the movement in August.
“It wasn’t really like they had answers for it, but it’s still a start to it,” Jackson said. “I feel like we have started something and that we want to finish it. The biggest thing is they understand the problems, and I think they want to attack them. For us here at the Redskins, we just really want to help change the mind-set, the mentality, and try and figure out a source that can help save lives.”
Fuller asked officials on the panel about specific law enforcement killings in their respective communities and whether there were other methods to de-escalate potentially deadly encounters. The biggest fissure occurred when Fuller asked why African Americans are killed at a rate twice that of other ethnic groups in the country, according to data compiled by The Washington Post in 2015, despite making up just 11 percent of the population.
“I’ve still got to tell my kids exactly what to do differently than most white parents have to tell their kids because even the greatest training doesn’t stop a rogue officer,” Fuller said. “That kind of pain I feel that is amplified by 350 years of history can’t be fixed by stats. That was the only thing I was trying to present that didn’t get answered as well as I thought, yet it was answered factually according to the way the question was presented.”
Brown, who is Leesburg’s first African American police chief in a town established in 1758, said the issue isn’t a “light-switch fix” and will require time to resolve with a change in police culture, police subculture and police training. He said it will take a three-pronged effort involving police reform, government reform and assistance from the community for law enforcement to gain trust among African Americans.
“I don’t view it as an issue of rebuilding trust, I see it as an issue of earning that trust in the first place,” Stawinski added. “Being cognizant of the history not just in [Prince George’s] County and our country, but of recent events, it’s incumbent upon me to provide thoughtful answers to these questions and show a way forward because we’re able to assuage the fundamental pain that people have by showing that we’re thoughtful about earning the trust in the first place and then going forward and leading to a better outcome for all of us.”