In the wake of the Ku Klux Klan-trooper scandal, many attendees of "Bridging the Gap" wondered whether tensions would boil into chaos Monday night at Sandusky High School.
After all, the event -- staged just two weeks after an arbitrator reinstated the troopers -- brought many law enforcement officials and dozens of minorities into the same room for the first time since the incident in January.
"I don't know what's going to happen," said Sandusky resident Marcus Kingsley before the event began. "I'm a little bit nervous."
But with subfreezing temperatures outside, the discussion never grew heated, and the incident only rarely surfaced.
Although it was mentioned in passing by several speakers, Lt. Darryl Edge of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, who presided over the event, only specifically addressed the KKK "prank" on the final question of the night -- and only when prodded by an audience member.
Edge, a black officer who heads the Sandusky post, said an arbitrator already had the final word, so he didn't feel he could accomplish anything by discussing it.
He said the community could begin its healing through dialogue, however.
"I wasn't here when it happened," Edge said. "When the colonel put me in charge, he told me to just go with it. He said we're moving forward. So that's what we're doing here tonight. We're communicating, which is progress. We're moving forward."
Despite the substance and the context, "Bridging the Gap" had an air of levity and informality that eased the tension.
At one point, Lt. William Thompson of the Ohio State Highway Patrol mixed humor with serious subject matter to explain how drivers who are pulled over can get into confrontations with police officers, even if the officers are trained to keep the situations courteous and respectful.
"People sometimes think because we're in law enforcement, we're always right. But we make mistakes just like everybody else," he said. "Sometimes when I wake up in the morning and Mama burnt my toast, I come out with a bad attitude. Sometimes you can have a bad attitude, too. When these attitudes come together, it can get kind of 'Woah!' ... We all have bad days. We're all human."
Thompson said police have to get a little strict if people don't comply during traffic stops. He then played two graphic videotapes of incidents in which citizens didn't comply with officers, and people ended up getting shot.
In one video a man wouldn't remove his hand from his pocket, even after the officer asked him repeatedly. If the officer would have taken control of the situation, Thompson said, he might still be alive.
But he didn't. The man pulled a gun on the officer, and then shot and killed him.
"So please follow our orders," he said. "We do the things we do to provide safety to everyone. Both you and us and other people."
A criminal defense lawyer also spoke at the event, and officers took part in role-playing scenarios. Audience members had the opportunity to ask the officers questions.
Fifty people attended "Bridging the Gap," presented by the state patrol, local police forces, Spirit in Truth Ministries, Inspiring Minds and the NAACP. Most of them left with a positive feeling.
"I think it was a good experience," Mike Jackson said. "They said they're going to continue the dialogue and hold these every few months, and I think that'll be very beneficial."