NORTH FULTON, Ga. — As policing dominates national issues relating to law enforcement and race, a local woman has set out to create a dialogue between local officials and the community she hopes will foster positive conversations and build a better sense of community.
Alpharetta’s Sierra Toler has organized the “Alpharetta and Milton Community Conversation” event scheduled for May 13 at St. James United Methodist Church, which will allow North Fulton residents to connect with local leaders.
A panel of local elected officials, police personnel and church leaders will take questions from the community relating to policing and how it relates to larger issues, including race. The panel will include Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin, Alpharetta Public Safety Director John Robison, Milton Police Chief Rich Austin, the Rev. Gregory Williams of St. James United Methodist Church and the Rev. Reginald Simmons of St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church.
Toler was spurred to action with police-related shootings and the recent trail of Derek Chauvin dominating national news cycles.
“I’m really fearful that with everyone consuming all of this…that kind of weariness between the police and community was going to get larger,” she said. “The more we see these police-involved shootings on a national level, that’s really shaping people’s fears. And I would love to nip this in the bud before, God forbid, something happens here.”
The initial step of that process, Toler said, is the community engaging with local leaders.
“I can’t name anyone on the Alpharetta or Milton police force, and it might be the same on their end,” she said. “We don’t know each other, and the first step of trust is having a conversation and meeting one another. That’s really the goal of this meeting, just expressing what their concerns or fears may be and for there to be some open and productive dialogue.”
Part of that process is including a range of officials and leaders in the area.
“I think it all works together,” Toler said. “There has to be a sort of dance between elected officials, the police and public safety, and the church. What is the church’s role in fostering positive community and police relationships, what is the mayor’s role in ensuring there is trust on both sides, and what are police doing to ensure there is no bias in their policing? I think they all have to work together for people to feel safter and understood.”
Toler said she does not want talks to be political or divisive, rather, the event should foster a productive dialogue.
“Walking away from the event, I hope that at least one less person can be fearful of police, and that at least one more police officer will know…that’s Joe’s son from up the road,” she said. “Just understanding we’re all people, all living in the same neighborhoods and want to make a great home for our families.”
In a statement made to Milton Police’s Facebook page, Chief Austin encouraged residents to attend the event.
“It is crucial for the police to hear from our residents, just as it’s important for us to share important information with you all,” Austin wrote. “Productive dialogue opportunities such as this can help us all learn, engage and ensure that we move together in a direction that benefits everyone in our great community.”
The event will take place outdoors at St. James, 3000 Webb Bridge Road, Alpharetta, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Toler and the panel will deliver opening remarks followed by a Q&A session. Attendees can either pose their questions through the microphone or submit them in writing.