This past Friday afternoon, Dan Kates stood in front of a crowd of people at the municipal airport in Redwood Falls.
For Kates, this was a day that he had longed for – when he witnessed the community standing shoulder to shoulder making a statement that it was going to make peace a priority.
Kates, a Redwood Falls native, helped organize a march for peace in his hometown June 5.
“Honestly, it went better than I could have ever hoped for,” Kates explained. “The amount of love and support was unreal."
For Kates, the biggest word that comes to mind for him is “gratitude.”
“So many people helped make this possible, and I couldn’t be more humbled and thankful,” Kates explained. “The turnout was amazing, and people came from all over the state. There wasn’t a single issue or problem the entire time.”
According to Kates, “the hope is now we continue to have open dialogue about the issues at hand. The police department has proven that they realize there is a problem, and the first step to healing is admitting there is an issue. So I feel like now that the problem has been recognized, we can start to fix it.”
Kates said he will be meeting with them on a fairly regular basis to provide insight and perspective on things, and efforts will be made to try to find actual and tangible changes that work for both sides.
“My personal belief is that policing shouldn’t be done by just the police,” added Kates. “I firmly believe that social workers should be in the car with officers or at least on standby to respond to calls together. That isn’t my idea. It’s an idea that is being floated around nationally, but I do believe that’s the most tangible start to fixing this problem.”
According to Kates, the reality is officers aren’t trained nearly enough in handling people. It’s been shown time and time again they really don’t know how to handle calls, such as a mentally handicapped person who can’t get under control, someone under the influences of drugs or someone with emotional problems.
“The vast majority of deaths by police have been because of a lack of knowledge of how to handle the situation,” Kates explained. “I truly believe if they aren’t responding to a call about violence that the first people to try to de-escalate the situation should be a social worker of some kind. Someone that specializes in handling people with mental issues or chemical dependency issues.”
Kates recognized in small towns like Redwood Falls having a social worker riding along with every officer is impossible, but he does believe there should be a direct line to an on-call social worker the officers call as soon as they get to the scene to determine how best to handle the situation.
“My hope going forward is that we can work towards something like that,” added Kates. “The respect is there on both sides, and everyone just wants what’s best for the people. So hopefully we can work together towards either that solution or something else that works for everyone. We have talked about doing the march annually as well, so that’s something I would love to continue.”
“I was proud of our community’s turnout and support leading up to, and during the March Friday night. It’s apparent to me and to many that we must do better in all of our relationships. I look forward to the work of what ‘better’ really means,” indicated Tom Quackenbush, Redwood Falls mayor.