Police officers and Weber State University community members built bridges at the first annual Eddie’s BBQ on Oct. 8.
The event, which was held in a Shepherd Union Ballroom, included a free barbecue, get-to-know-you games and a discussion on racial tension.
Sitting together around tables of barbeque, officers and community members swapped stories, the intimate setting being one of the goals of the event.
The barbeque was suggested by Eddie Baxter, a member of WSU’s Black Student Union, at a panel on race last July.
“I’m really glad that my idea was heard and they took it to action,”
Baxter said he suggested the idea of a barbeque because he wanted a comfortable, laid-back approach.
Over the last several months, Baxter worked with Dane LeBlanc, the chief of WSU’s police department, and Adrienne Andrews, WSU’s chief diversity officer, to organize the event.
President Chuck Wight also participated in the event. He said discussing issues together is crucial to solving problems and easing tension.
“Events like this are a part of the solution,” Andrews said. “If you have a meal with someone and get to know them, it’s harder to make assumptions about them.”
According to LeBlanc, the goal of the event was to build better relationships within the community.
“In my 21 years of working here, I have never had a Hispanic or Black applicant,” LeBlanc said.
Because having ethnically diverse officers is key to easing police-community tension, LeBlanc said he is willing to sponsor a minority applicant through the law enforcement academy.
The entire WSU police department was present except for two officers.
Officer Hamilton was one of the WSU police officers who attended the event.
“This event is a good way to break down the wall that police officers are just like anybody else,” Hamilton said.
“I’m hoping we can find common ground between law enforcement officers and minority students,” Baxter said.
Toni Wells, a member of the WSU community, said she appreciated the event.
“I like the fact that they are trying to bridge a gap. It seems like it’s building a trusting relationship,” Wells said.
Annette Green, a member of the community, agreed.
“I think this is a good function for students to understand that officers are here to help,” Green said.
Ricardo Ortiz, freshman, is an international student from Venezuela. He said that in his experiences with Venezuelan police officers, they do anything but help. According to Ortiz, police officers in Venezuela treat people very bad, especially if you are from a different race.
“In Utah, police are not as bad as Venezuela, but there is still room for improvement,” Ortiz said.
Zarai Gutierrez and Karina Martinez are WSU students who said they both attended the event to learn more information.
Gutierrez and Martinez said they have both been victims of discrimination at the hands of police officers.
Despite their experiences, they said they believe equality can prevail.
“These problems can be fixed by respect and being kind and seeing from other people’s perspectives,” Gutierrez said.