'Caught in the middle': 7 Black mayors share how they navigate relationships with police

Two are the first Black mayors of their cities, and two are the youngest elected mayors of their cities.
/ Source: TODAY

Over the past several months, racial tensions in the U.S. have been front of mind, and few may know this better than the seven Black mayors who sat down with TODAY's Craig Melvin on Thursday to discuss the issues they face running their cities, mostly in the South.

The interview included Randall Woodfin of Birmingham, Alabama; Levar Stoney of Richmond, Virginia; Adrian Perkins of Shreveport, Louisiana; Frank Scott of Little Rock, Arkansas; Chokwe Lumumba of Jackson, Mississippi; Steven Reed of Montgomery, Alabama; and Quinton Lucas of Kansas City, Missouri.

Most are under 40, and they didn't shy away from addressing the topic of policing in America, as protests over racial injustice continue to take place across the country.

Asked by Craig how to handle the tension "between the police and the policed," Scott answered, "We all have to listen first. And in our listening, we have to be proactive with our actions."

Perkins said that personal experience plays a role as well.

"Some of us come from these communities that you described as being policed. And we bring those experiences into office."

Stoney talked about feeling "caught in the middle."

"A lot of us have been on the other side of dealing with the police before," he explained. "Our cars have been asked to have been searched, or we've been asked to put our hands on the hood. And we also recognize that there's leadership that's necessary in these moments."

The mayors — two of whom are the first Black mayor of their cities and two who are the youngest mayors elected in theirs — also discussed what it takes to be a Black politician right now.

"All of us are dealing with the trifecta of a global health pandemic, economic crisis, and racial unrest," Woodfin explained. "All three of those things combined requires a deep moral compass to make tough decisions."

Lumumba added, "It's our mission every day to speak for those that often don't have agency and have an inability to speak for themselves."

To get through it all, these men often lean on each other, they told Craig.

"We're talking to each other about things like, 'Do you have a curfew? What are you doing in terms of controlling or quelling protests?'" Lucas said. "And at a time like this, with the country as divided as it is, this has been vital for us."

They even communicate through a group text chain, according to Perkins.

"This is a new South. This text thread and our communication actually allows us to pull from experiences throughout the South to make us even more informed leaders," he said.

But the thread isn't all business, Reed clarified.

"Listen. It may start off with, you know, some platitudes. But, you know, it quickly, you know, goes downhill into, you know, whose college team is the best," he joked.

Lumumba described the group as a "brotherhood."

"The dependence that we have on one another is more than just in a professional way," he said. "It's also personal."

"We can trust one another and really heal," Scott added.