Broken taillight, traffic stop, tension, ticket.
That cycle can worsen relationships between civilians and law enforcement without proactively solving the safety issue of nonworking automobile equipment.
But what if the traffic flow changes to broken taillight, traffic stop, voucher for a repair and fixed light?
There's mounting evidence in the Twin Cities area, from North Minneapolis southwest to Shakopee that the latter scenario is yielding positive results.
Lights On! has distributed 3,000 vouchers for various vehicle repairs since its founding in 2017, which occurred in response to the tragic and unnecessary death of Philando Castile during a traffic stop.
More vouchers will be enabled going forward, thanks to a $20,000 grant from the Minnesota Vikings Social Justice Committee, and Lights On! aims to expand its reach.
Vikings running back Alexander Mattison joined former Vikings punter Greg Coleman for a recent virtual conversation with community member Ezra Hyland, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, Assistant Chief Henry Halverson and Inspector Charlie Adams and Shakopee Chief Jeff Tate to learn more about the program.
Testimonies conveyed the way that distributing the vouchers instead of tickets has brightened stops for the motorists and law enforcement.
Nonworking lights can pose multiple types of safety hazards. Sometimes they are unknown by drivers; other times, however, a citizen might be aware of the problem but might not have the means to get it fixed.
If the choice is buying food or fixing a light — or other equipment in violation — who wouldn't choose sustenance?
The police departments said they understand that dynamic but still need to promote public safety. They appreciate what Lights On! has enabled them to do.
"It can absolutely make a significant difference in the lives of those folks who, 'I still needed my car to drop my children off at grandma's or at daycare or for me to get to that second job I so desperately need.' We didn't have a lot of tools on our tool belt, in terms of, 'Well, the person has violated the law. It's an equipment violation.' Sometimes we left a very negative impact in people's lives," Arradondo said. "Lights On! has given us an opportunity to provide hope to many in our communities of color that have been struggling. It's given us an opportunity to provide hope for them and has changed lives. At a time now where trust and legitimacy in police departments are at a tipping point, this is so vitally important for us and can help us start the dialogue."
Tate said Shakopee has been a participant in the program for more than two years. He watches body cam footage of traffic stops and has seen the interactions improve upon presentation of the voucher.
"When it comes to the true impact of this program, I don't think I'm over-exaggerating or overstating when I say it's had a profound impact on how we interact with each other," Tate said. "It's changed perceptions and changed the outcomes of these traffic stops in a positive way. I feel confident I can say that definitively because I've seen it with my own eyes."
Mattison said the Minnesota Vikings Social Justice Committee members have tried to learn more about organizations that can benefit the community and support them.
"For us, we try and allocate funds to some of the things that we really believe in," Mattison said. "Lights On! is something that I definitely believe in. … I always believe in the details of things, and that's what's going to make this world a better place, if we fix the details.
"I can't say enough how inspired I am just to be a part of this and hear everything about Lights On! The future of it is extremely bright, I can tell, and I'm all for it," Mattison added.
Coleman, a groundbreaking punter who overcame discrimination and racism during his youth, followed his NFL career with 25 years in public safety communications. He said Lights On! provides "an opportunity of healing and trusting and developing" relationships. Coleman hopes the program can expand to NFL cities across the country.
Lights On! CEO Don Samuels thanked the Vikings for their support of the program through the grant and with helping publicize the program that "is touching that pain point of the interaction between a police officer and a citizen."
"We are transforming that pain point, that stress point, that trauma point into a point of healing, and that healing takes place not in spite of the problem but because of the problem," Samuels said. "The problem gets fixed, the attitude gets changed and the experiences are transformed. It's happened 3,000 times so far in the state of Minnesota. Each of those times is a transformed experience."