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To Lawmakers, this is where you should listen and learn

To: Lawmakers

From: Sean Sheppard (As told to Lauren Brill)

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Dear Lawmakers,

We want you to show up.

I have invited you several times to join us, but, for the most part, you have yet to come.

So, we’ve been busy changing the game without you.

It all started back on November 22, 2014. I turned on the TV and there it was – another story about an unarmed black person killed by the police. This time it was a 12-year-old boy. Yes, a 12-year-old boy – just a child with a whole life ahead of him. Tamir Rice was shot in Cleveland, Ohio while playing at a park with a toy gun.

Tamir is among John Crawford III (Dayton, Ohio,) Michael Brown Jr. (Ferguson, Missouri), Ezell Ford (Florence, California), Dante Parker (Victorville, California), Akai Gurley (Brooklyn, New York), Rumain Brisbon (Phoenix) and Jerame Reid (Bridgeton, New Jersey) – who are just some of the black men who were unarmed and killed by the police in 2014 alone.

That year, 2014, I felt overwhelmed with rage, hurt and anger. Often, I found myself venting on social media. The hurt was not only from the killings of unarmed black men. It was also from the silence of many of my white friends.

I knew we needed change and I decided I had to help make it happen.

The hurt was not only from the killings of unarmed black men. It was also from the silence of many of my white friends.

From 1993 – 2000, I worked in collegiate athletics as a strength and conditioning coach. During my time at San Diego State University, we had two offensive linemen on scholarship.  One was a black kid from Compton, California, who grew up around mostly black people. The other was a white kid from Utah who had never been around any black people. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, they had common goals, which was to win and get better. Since they played the same position, they spent a lot of time together, watching film, working out in the weight room and doing homework in study hall. First, they became friends. Then, in their second semester, they decided to become roommates. By the end of their sophomore year, they were best friends. After college, they each were the best man at each other’s weddings.

Sean took it upon himself to help create change in his community by starting Game Changer

Their friendship perfectly exemplified how sports have the power to break down huge barriers and create change – not only in people’s individual lives but in the world.

In 2016, I created a program called Game Changer. At a Game Changer event, community residents and law enforcement come together for a moderated focus group. We discuss problems and devise solutions. After the discussion, we head to a sporting event, a casual environment where we cheer on a team and get to know each other as people.

At our first event, a member of law enforcement and a community resident engaged in a somewhat contentious conversation during the focus group. However, when we went to a San Diego State men’s basketball game together immediately after, the two realized they both were bourbon aficionados. Suddenly, they were laughing, joking and exchanging stories. I knew at that moment this was it, that this program could and would make a difference. Through sports and quality time together, we have allowed people to see each other’s humanity – to see each other not as enemies but as human beings. We establish a sense of respect, putting us in a position to work together to solve problems.

We have allowed people to see each other’s humanity – to see each other not as enemies but as human beings.

Data collected shows that law enforcement members who participate in Game Changer recognize the value of spending more time outside of their squad cars and getting to know people in the communities they serve. When pulling people over, they also see the added value of introducing themselves, saying their names and interacting with motorists person-to-person when circumstances permit.

Throughout Game Changer events, our participants have identified several problems, including a lack of communication and personal relationships between the community and law enforcement. One solution includes creating a national traffic stop protocol and putting it on the driver’s exam.  Another solution is to have rights and responsibility cards that we keep in our vehicles, so we know our rights and law enforcement knows what our rights are and vice versa. Our participants would also like mandated long-form psychiatric evaluations for all officers in the field on a bi-yearly basis.

Through sports Game Changer helps break down barriers and create solutions that work for everyone.

Game Changer solutions are not one-sided. They are crafted by both sides, who are coming together to develop a better world for each other.  There are people on the outside of law enforcement AND on the inside who are showing up to do the work because they want a more peaceful and safer society.

Game Changer is changing culture, perspectives and behaviors.

However, we also need to change the laws, creating and enforcing a system that effectively protects and considers everyone – not just those who contribute to election campaigns and police officer associations. That’s where you come into play.

Now, we do events virtually. Law enforcement is showing up. Members of the community are showing up. But I keep inviting you, our lawmakers, and most of you have yet to join us.

In four years, we’ve had 1,500 participants and only two of those participants have been lawmakers.

It is time for you to suit up with us, so you can identify your opponent and work with all of your teammates, which includes the community and law enforcement.

At Game Changer, we are already making changes without you. But to continue to move forward, we need you to help us rewrite the rules.

We are ready when you are.

Sean Sheppard
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