Several years ago, a black couple was strolling near Longshore. A Westport police officer stopped them, then questioned them about a recent robbery in the area.
The man and woman wore typical Westport weekend walking clothes. They were middle-aged. It was clear the only reason they were stopped was because of their color.
They told the policeman they lived nearby, expecting a profuse apology. Instead they got attitude. Weren’t they glad, the officer asked, that he was helping protect their neighborhood?
Some Westporters may think Thursday’s TEAM Westport forum — “The Gates Incident: Could It Happen Here?” (Westport Library, 7:30 p.m.) — is an exercise in liberal, feel-good futility. Of course the Westport police would never arrest a black man in his own home, as the Cambridge police did this summer with the eminent Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates.
Thursday’s forum should be a good one. Police Chief Al Fiore will begin by describing Westport’s approach to the kinds of issues that triggered the Cambridge incident.
A facilitator will then open up the meeting. Any participant may suggest a topic for discussion. After all topics are posted, attendees move around the room to whichever topic they wish to pursue. Each small group then reports on its principal conclusions at the end of a predetermined time.
The more people talk — openly and honestly — about issues like race (and ethnicity and sexuality, all part of TEAM Westport’s charge as the town’s official committee on diversity), the more people learn. And the more we learn, the less chance there is for confrontation to escalate into crisis.
On all sides.