As the country continues to find itself in a state of national crisis—still reeling from the killings of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota this month, as well as five police officers in Dallas, Texas—some Americans have been using food to express their support and frustrations. And while some restaurants have been accused of banning officers from their dining rooms in recent weeks, other citizens are using food as a means of improving fractured relations between cops and the communities they serve.
Over the weekend, the Wichita, Kansas chapter of Black Lives Matter had been planning a demonstration to protest police violence. But following a productive sit-down between one of the group's activists, A.J. Bohannon, and Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay last week, the two parties decided to host a barbeque instead. At that moment, the First Steps Community Cookout was born, a community gathering intended to bridge the gap between the police and local Wichita residents.
After a gunman fatally shot three police officers in Baton Rouge on Sunday, the cookout seemed to take on an extra level of significance.
"We can get on the same page and say those things that are in Baton Rouge don't trickle over into Wichita, Kansas,” Bohannan told KMUW. “My heart goes out to the families, those officers in Baton Rouge, but I think the fact that that did happen makes this event more meaningful. I definitely think this is a start for this community, and I definitely want to keep it going.”
At the barbecue, police officers cooked up some 4,00 hamburgers and hot dogs that were donated by members of the community. Attendees used the hashtag #ThatsMyWichita on social media, sharing images of officers, elected officials, and civilians bonding over food, music, and basketball.
For some members of the community—many of whom are African-American—it was the first time they had sat down with a police officer in decades. Toward's the end of the cookout, Ramsay held a community forum where attendees could ask questions about the conduct of his police department.
“Loud and clear I have zero tolerance for racial profiling or racial bias,” he said. "If you feel mistreated, I want to know about it."