LANGELY PARK – At a time when tensions between minority communities and police officers are on full display, in part due to vigilant activists and social media, communities from across the county and the country came together with their local officers for a common cause – to stop violence and crime in their neighborhoods.
On Aug. 2, CASA, along with the Langley Park community, members of Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) and local political leaders, celebrated National Night Out Against Crime, better known as National Night Out.
“National Night Out is a great opportunity for us to share our spaces, as community members, and come together to give a positive response to violence,” said Alma Couverthie, senior director of community organizing at CASA. “These are our open spaces and is our home. We need to be able to enjoy them without violence and to maintain a good relationship with police officers.”
National Night Out, an annual, nationwide, community-building campaign built to promote a police-community partnership and neighborly camaraderie, was started in 1984 by the National Association of Town Watch with funds from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice. The event, built around introducing local police to the community through fun engagement, was initiated as a way to prevent crime and “create safer places to live,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“With what’s been going on recently in the news and we see a lot of issues between communities and police, this is the perfect time where we can actually have an event that brings the community and police together,” said Del. Carlo Sanchez (D), who represents District 47B.
CASA’s celebration Tuesday echoed those founding principles and brought the community of Langley Park together with members of PGPD, but they made their day incredibly unique by adding a little music to the mix.
Armed with batons, drums, trumpets and signs, the community marched with Banda El Pulgarcito USA through the neighborhood from CASA’s Multicultural Center to the local Boys & Girls Club.
Del. Alonzo Washington (D), who serves as CASA’s senior manager for housing and community development, helped put together the event. It was the first ever Langley Park National Night Out.
“The purpose of it is to send the message out about trying to bridge the community and police department divide and also to send out the message that we’re here to stop the violence in our neighborhood and bring down the crime, by building that divide,” Washington said.
Langley Park is in particular need of these community-building events with local law enforcement, Washington said, because the population primarily consists of immigrant and Spanish-speaking residents. He said it is incredibly important that the community knows its police officers and that the police are able to communicate with those they interact with.
During the event, local officers interacted with the community, shook hands with children and talked about the importance of good relations between the community and law enforcement.
Jo Perez, the president of the Hispanic American Police Command Officer’s Association and president of the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association, spoke at the event.
He said National Night Out is important because it brings people together. He is a member of the community too and events like this show residents the police are approachable, they’re neighbors and they want to help.
“My Spanish is not very good,” he told the gathered crowd in Spanish. “But my intentions are very good.”
The event Tuesday was capped off with free food, painting stations for children, a soccer match and ended with a viewing of “Spare Parts,” a movie about Latino youth who sign up for a national robotics competition.