Portland man, officer share story to help shine light on implici - KPTV - FOX 12

Portland man, officer share story to help shine light on implicit bias

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A traffic stop leads to a special connection between a Portland Police officer and local director Kevin Jones.  A powerful story shared at an event Thursday, where local leaders gathered to address racial tensions and implicit bias in the community. 

It all happened after Officer Bill Balzer noticed a car driving up Burnside last year, that caught his eye.

"I pay attention to cool cars, and I saw there was an older 2002 BMW," said Balzer.

The driver of that car was Kevin Jones.

"I turned up a one-way street, I was running late for a meeting," said Jones.

"I ended up going behind him to pull him over and when we got to Alder he makes a left turn. It was almost like he didn't see me, or wasn't paying attention," said Balzer.

Jones said he didn't notice the officer at all, until he looked out of his window and saw him standing there. But, when Balzer tried talking to him, Jones didn't want to respond.

"I've learned sometimes it's not even good to answer questions. I'm afraid I'll sound guilty, I'm afraid I'll sound nervous," said Jones. "I think you talk to any African American man of my generation, or younger that lived in the country, they'll have many stories to tell."

Balzer tells FOX 12 he wasn't sure what to make of the situation until he overheard Jones talking to his wife on the phone.

"I heard him saying, 'I got stopped by the police, but I think I'm going to be OK,'" said Balzer. "That kind of drew my attention a little bit, I was taken back like, 'what do you mean you're going to be OK, I'm not doing anything wrong.'"

Balzer struck up conversation with Jones and got him to open up.

"When he started to talk, he was calm, he was curious, you know, he was interested in me," said Jones.

An interest, that developed into understanding and eventually friendship. One that prompted the two to share their story in public to help shine a light on implicit bias.

"It's important to acknowledge that bias lives in both places, both sides, I've learned that big time," said Jones. "I love Bill now, he's a good friend, he cares."

Their presentation was one of many at the Building Bridges event held at the Muslim Educational Trust Community Center in Tigard on Thursday.

"When it comes to community health and community harmony the magic happens at the local level," said Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett.

Law enforcement, attorneys, city leaders and community members from around the Portland metro area spent the day learning, listening and talking to one another about the presence of bias in our community and its impact on public safety.

"We live in a time of divisiveness, tough rhetoric from across the spectrum and heightened tensions surrounding the issues of race and justice," said United States Attorney Billy Williams. 

Together the group spent the day working toward solutions.

"What I'm encouraged about is the fact that we're having these discussions, it's the only way to figure out what we can do differently to make our system more just," Williams added.

For Balzer and Jones that change came unexpectedly at a traffic stop. 

"I'm just trying to be a good person and treat people the way I'd want to be treated," said Balzer. "This is a friend I've never had, that I met on a traffic stop that I feel comfortable with. When I see him, I hug him and talk to him about things. He's been through so much that I never have and never will, at least I get that experience in talking to him."

"He's my friend," said Jones. "He represents something for me, he's a symbol. He changed my beliefs and biases, as we learned today, in a way that actually helps me see more of the truth as opposed to what my traumatized self wants to believe."

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