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June 8, 2017
Life After Witt

Bernadette Evans '89

Forging Partnerships in Community Policing

An African-American political science major, she didn't always have a positive opinion of police. But her attitude was transformed by her work with Cpl. Daniel Vignola and other members of a now disbanded community-oriented policing unit in Wilmington. 

"I saw my neighborhood get better," she said. 

She also sees no practical alternative for neighborhoods beset by violence: "If we run into trouble, there's only one force we can call." 

Although Evans views the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against unjustified police shootings of African Americans as part of the continuing narrative of the Civil Rights movement, she also sees the funeral she attended for one of her son's 14-year old friends killed execution style not far from his school, as being representative of a powerfully oppressive force that too often goes unmentioned: neighborhood violence.

A weariness bears down in the soul every time news breaks that, yet again, a mother, a teenager or a grandfather's life has been shortened by gun violence. It's an exhaustion that settles into the bones of the city, as the weight of violence in Wilmington crushes us into dust.
Bernadette Evans '89

"A weariness bears down in the soul every time news breaks that, yet again, a mother, a teenager or a grandfather's life has been shortened by gun violence. It's an exhaustion that settles into the bones of the city, as the weight of violence in Wilmington crushes us into dust," Evans wrote on delwareonline.com. 

 "It's a conundrum; it's a quandary, she said. But in order to address both the issue of violence plaguing urban communities and reducing conflicts between Black people and cops, the divide has to be bridged through intentional engagement from both sides.

Evans said the connections she helped to forge with the Wilmington community policing officers encouraged her neighbors to talk with one another and helped built a coalition to resist the violence. 

Police-community trust and connectedness turned the temperature down in Wilmington after a police-involved shooting because people reached across the line during that difficult time, she added. 

Evans also saw, on an everyday level, how so many things can get caught or shut down, just because people feel comfortable leaving a message (with a community officer). That's how you begin.

To Evans, voices raised against community violence are like voices raised in Civil Rights protests: Both speak out against violent oppression of the black community. As she wrote so powerfully on delawareonline.com: "We didn't stay silent with the hopes that Jim Crow would end. We can't stay silent in the face of internal annihilation."

- Tom Stafford '76

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