"Ali Need is Love" for Erasing the Line Separating Police and Community

Published : Tuesday, September 10, 2019 | 5:35 AM

Filmmaker A.J. Ali is feeling the love following his mission to Pasadena.

On Sept. 6, Ali, Pasadena Police Chief John Perez, and Sergeant Sam De Sylva, got together with some two dozen kids from Blair High School R.O.T.C., and an equal number of police officers for a “community dialogue meeting.”

The pow-wow was based along the lines of workshops Ali has rooted in his film “Walking While Black: Love is the Answer.”

Thursday’s confab didn’t happen with a sudden lightning strike, but from a series of encounters between Ali, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Pasadena City Councilman John Kennedy, Perez, and some others.

The end result was heaven-sent from Ali’s perspective.

“I think some really beautiful things are going to happen going forward as a result of that meeting,” he said in an interview.

The filmmaker/activist was impressed with the police leaders’ level of commitment when he first met Perez and De Sylva during a similar dialogue meeting involving elements of Santa Monica law enforcement.

“I’ve been some places where they want to check the box,” he explained. “You know, they just want to say that they did it, so that if people ask, they can say they did it. I don’t get that from Perez and De Sylva.”

From the police pairing, Ali said, he senses a sincerity, a willingness to admit being wrong and to entertain different perspectives, a willingness to provide others an opportunity for growth.

“And that really sets the stage for some incredible things to happen,” he continued, “and we saw that, I think, Thursday with how everyone treated each other and, really, just how many people left there changed and transformed.”

The students from Blair, he stated, “interacted well and were open and transparent.”

Ali said he had heartfelt conversations with some of the high schoolers and received a handwritten note from one explaining how much the gathering meant to him. “I’m probably going to frame that and put it up on my wall,” he said.

According to Ali, Pasadena can expect more of such meetings, coming from the initiative of the police department. “There’s 140,000 people in Pasadena,” he noted, “and there were 45 people in the room on Thursday. So you have 139,000 whatever that number is left to go.”

In all seriousness, he said more of the face-offs need to happen locally. There is a conference format available for those who want to try, and a retreat format, and a book soon to be published that accompanies the film which, again, is at the root of all this.

So what about the film? What’s “Walking While Black: Love is the Answer” all about?

“It’s about teaching people how to love each other,” said Ali. “I think that police and community is a good place to start, because that’s the flashpoint when things go wrong in a community, right? When something happens, the police are called in to respond.”

Ali said the goal is the development of a greater understanding between the community and the police until there is no dividing line; no grouping, just a police force and a civilian population, the sum of which make up an organic community.

“So when things happen, we approach it like family members who love each other, versus combatants who don’t know each other,” said Ali.

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