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This group of Black law enforcement officers is giving back to the community, trying to create change – Des Moines Register

It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving at Blades Barbershop on Ingersoll Avenue.
College football was on the TV, and songs from Drake’s newest hip-hop album, “Certified Lover Boy,” filled the room. Some barbers snuck in a dance move or two. I couldn’t help but dance, too, once “Essence” by WizKid and Tems played on the speaker.
On the left side of the shop, Kingston Valdez, 5, was getting a bald fade. He looked in the mirror and said “woooow.” On the right side, Emmanuel Dameron, 9, was getting twists. 
And both left Blades Barbershop with a Thanksgiving turkey for their families. 
Their fresh cuts, and the turkeys, were courtesy of the Iowa chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. A handful of members gave away 20 free haircut vouchers for customers 17 and younger, along with 20 free turkeys.
“Around Thanksgiving time, everyone wants to be clean and fresh,” Art Rabon, Iowa NOBLE president, explained to me at Blades Barbershop. Rabon, 56, is the assistant director of the Department of Correctional Services’ Fifth Judicial District.
Rabon smiled as he looked around the room and said “one of our missions is to give back to our community.”
Other goals: to build trust in the community through transparency and honesty, to increase representation of Black and brown people within law enforcement, and to advocate for change within their respective departments.
“Over the years, walls have been built, trust has been lost … We get it from both sides. We’re sellouts to some people,” Rabon said. “But also, a lot of people don’t even know we are here. They don’t see officers of color — we exist, and we’re here to do things right.”
The vice president of Iowa’s NOBLE chapter, Kenneth Brown, agreed.
“It’s important that Black officers be visible, especially with what’s going on across the country,” he said.
“A lot of communities of color are going through bad times with law enforcement, and NOBLE is trying to mend these relationships. Some of the issues they have with law enforcement are similar to what Black officers sometimes experience in their own departments.”
There are about 15 NOBLE members, mostly from the Des Moines metro. Allies are members too, not just Black officers.
Since Iowa’s chapter formed in 2015, NOBLE has strived to step up as leaders in the community — “no gimmicks,” Brown said. Twice a year, NOBLE hosts “The Law and Your Community” interactive programs with middle school and high school students, teaching young people about their rights — especially when being pulled over by police. Members hold “coffee with NOBLE” events, inviting any community member to sit down and chat with them about anything. They’ve participated in panels on racial profiling, mass incarceration and the role of policing.
When a former Des Moines police officer was accused of insinuating extreme racial violence against a command staff member of color, NOBLE was there to publicly condemn those comments. 
In the works are forums with students in Des Moines to ask them how law enforcement officers can better serve their community.
There’s a lack of conversation about what the issues are within law enforcement agencies, said Brown, 53. He’s been with the Des Moines Police Department for 31 years.
“No one is willing to reach out and say, ‘Hey, what can we do better? What are the issues?’ If you don’t want to come to the table and sit down and listen, how do you expect any type of healing?” Brown said.
“NOBLE wants to be the organization that the community can trust when they want  honesty and transparency. We’ll sit down with anybody. We’re not afraid; we don’t shy away.”
Andrea Sahouri covers social justice for the Des Moines Register. She can be contacted at [email protected], on Twitter @andreamsahouri, or by phone 515-284-8247.
Our Des Moines is a weekly feature on an interesting person, place or happening in the Des Moines metro, the kind of gems that make central Iowa a special place. Have an idea for this series? Contact [email protected]


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