In the days since a gunman shot and killed five police officers in downtown Dallas, group after group has called for a new kind of conversation about police and race relations.
Thirty miles north, the conversation has been going on for months. Two Frisco residents have been getting together regularly to talk over lunch: the assistant police chief, who’s white, and the black pastor of a predominately African-American church.
The spark to that union came last summer after the infamous McKinney pool party. A white police officer made national headlines after he shoved a black teenage girl to the ground.
In neighboring Frisco, pastor James Hutchins called his police chief. He wanted to make sure he knew the police and that the police knew him.
‘I’d like to go to lunch’
Later, Hutchins was at a school event. Assistant police chief Darren Stevens approached him.
“I walked up and introduced myself and said ‘I’d like to go to lunch,’” Stevens says. “I like to eat.”
And so began what’s become a monthly lunch date at the Cotton Patch Café. Between bites of salmon and blackened tilapia over a recent meal, pastor and cop wasted no time getting into some pretty weighty issues.
They talked about whether black residents and police officers are talking to each other.
“It’s not happening enough, to be honest,” Hutchins told Stevens. “Because, for some kids, you know, the police is taboo – black or white.”
“You know, I think it happens,” he said. “I think these conversations happen. But, at times, they happen in a check-the-box connotation or: ‘We did it. We can say we did our outreach.’ Stuff like that.”
‘Dialogue follows the relationship’
For the cop, the pastor is his conduit to the community. Stevens, though, says he’s never been uncomfortable around people who are different than him.
He grew up in Dallas and went to high school in the old Crozier Tech building downtown. Most of his classmates were black. Still, he knows that the time to build relationships is not at the moment a crisis hits.
“I’m not doing this just to check a box,” Stevens told Hutchins. “You know, this is talk about building ongoing relationships and then have that dialogue because you know as well as I do, you said it earlier, the dialogue follows the relationship.”
Hutchins responded: “It does.”
“And if there’s a problem, and you have a relationship, you’re not talking to someone you don’t know,” Hutchins continued. “You’re talking to someone you know.”
Stevens said: “You know the heart of that person.”
Hutchins is the senior pastor of New Life Community Church. Most of the members are black, educated and married. Frisco is a suburb of 117,000 people. About 8 percent of residents are African-American and 12 percent are Hispanic.
Hutchins was born in Mississippi and went to school in Indiana. He joined the Navy after high school. In 2000, after 20 years, he retired and went into the ministry. The pastor says his southern roots and upbringing have helped him.
“I found that when you show respect, you’re more inclined to get it,” Hutchins says. “And I believe that’s one of the reasons I’ve not had problems with police officers or authority as a whole, because I’ve adhered to my grandparents and parents in just showing respect to people. Not just authority, but people.”
Stevens said that from a policing standpoint, law enforcement officers don’t mind people disagreeing with them.
“We don’t mind people bringing things to our attention that they feel wasn’t handled how it should be,” Stevens said.
But Stevens says there’s a time and place to do that – and that’s not on the side of the road.
Forming a bond
He and the pastor don’t agree on every point. Hutchins says they have a lot of work to do.
One thing, however, does unite them – the willingness to see things through a different lens.
And there’s something else.
“I’ve learned that James wants me to pay for lunch more than he does,” Stevens jokes.
“Yeah, I’ve learned he probably should,” Hutchins says. He laughs.