When a relationship bond is broken, how hard is it to repair? We recently learned about the unexpected consequences of community discord with a new study publicized in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The report showed that 911 calls for police assistance decreased by 20% city-wide after incidents of police brutality were exposed on the news. These police attacks were committed against black males and for months after, people refused to call the police for crime related concerns. And the majority of calls - a whopping 56% - were lost from predominantly minority communities in Milwaukee. What makes this so unnerving is that while calls for 911 assistance went down, the rate of homicides in the city reached a seven-year high.
We should ask ourselves, how pervasive is the breakdown in trust beyond that of the police and community relations. Police shootings and highly publicized incidents of police brutality may be the most visible – but where else is the community trust broken; where else is society in pain? Certainly, many feel alienated from the government, as evidenced in the current political campaign. Financial institutions are deemed suspect after the mortgage market collapse. Those who lost their jobs are worried about immigrants taking what work is left. Some in the religious right don’t trust those from the LGBT community. Communities refuse to build affordable housing for fear of who that may attract. And the list goes on.
I wonder how many other types of 911 calls are we missing? How many groups and individuals are suffering but are afraid to reach out because they feel alone or alienated or that no one cares? How many opportunities to build community are lost because the bonds of trust are frayed?
Trust is built through truth, tolerance, reliability and mercy. And so, I must ask what role I can play in fostering trust. How can I help to create an atmosphere where people feel safe in reaching out or are willing to take the first steps to build community? I can strive to embody the qualities listed above in my relationships. I can take personal responsibility for building trust with those around me and I can call out actions that degrade trust when I see them on display – at whatever level they occur.
Trust and community are fragile and seem to be broken at many points in our country. Perhaps, we are hearing a 911 call from a society in pain and we are needed to become its first responders.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.