Local law enforcement officials were challenged Tuesday night at a community forum by an audience demanding greater accountability, more diversity in the police force and a better understanding of the difficulties faced by communities of color, joining a national and divisive conversation on race relations.
The forum, hosted by City Council member Myrtle Cole, was intended as an open dialogue to promote understanding and healing after a national series of deadly altercations between police and black men.
San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, who was one of several panelists at the forum, said the local police department has maintained a trust with residents that does not exist elsewhere, one she credited to the use of body-worn cameras, community training for officers and a diverse police force.
But many of the more than 200 audience members, the majority of whom were black, called on police and city officials to address and acknowledge issues they said have long divided blacks and law enforcement, such as racial profiling and use of excessive force.
Armand King, born and raised in San Diego, alleged he's been racially profiled by police all his life, being mistakenly identified as a gang member on some occasions.
"(The problem) is not just in Ferguson, it's right here in sunny San Diego. Those in La Jolla might not feel it, those in Mission Bay, Serra Mesa and Clairemont, they might not feel it, but in this area, we feel it," he said. "We're pulled over for no reason."
King, 35, said it's not acceptable for law enforcement to "put a Band-aid" over issues affecting the black community.
"There's a root to every problem. So let's look at the root," he said.
Residents also challenged Cole, who hosted the event in her district at the George L. Stevens Senior Center, 570 S. 65th St. Cole, an African American and former police officer, said she's been "overwhelmed by the loss of life this country has experienced."
"I wanted to let my community know that I hear you," she said. "But I also know what it feels like to go into a dangerous situation (as a police officer)."
Tensions between police and minority communities have escalated in recent weeks after the shootings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Their deaths were captured on video, sparking nationwide protests and fueling the Black Lives Matter movement.
On July 7, a sniper gunned down several police officers during a protest in downtown Dallas, leaving five of them dead and several others injured. Authorities said the gunman, a military veteran identified as Micah Xavier Johnson, set out to kill white officers.
Then, on Sunday, a gunman identified as Gavin E. Long, fatally shot three officers in Baton Rouge, injuring three others. Both suspects were killed at the scene during shootouts with police.