Esaw Snipes, Lesley McSpadden

Talk show host and panel moderator Iyanla Vanzant, center, comforts Esaw Snipes, right, the wife of police victim Eric Garner, during a panel on police brutality, including Lesley McSpadden, left, the mother of police shooting victim Michael Brown, at the 16th National Action Network’s (NAN) annual national convention opening, Wednesday, April 8, 2015, in New York. The meeting is the first public convening of the nation’s top civil rights leaders since a spate of police violence sparked unrest in cities across the nation. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Walter Scott, of South Caroline, was shot and killed April 4, but the video detailing his murder didn’t go viral until days before the National Action Network’s (NAN) 17th annual convention, held April 8-11 in New York City. Widespread attention to the clip caused previously planned conference sessions to be even more emotional and relevant, symbolizing ongoing issues in communities of color nationwide and amplifying the need for racial healing and police accountability.

“You can’t watch that as a human being and not feel pain,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said standing next to the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of NAN, at the convention’s opening ribbon-cutting event. “It makes no sense, according to what our core notions of humanity and decency and justice are.”

Following Mayor de Blasio’s comments, NAN held two panel sessions further highlighting the commonly felt perception: The “Police Brutality Panel – The Impact of Police Brutality – The Victims Speak” and the “Police Policy Panel – Fighting Crime Without Suspending Rights.”

In the sessions, the pain alluded to by de Blasio was both expressed from victims of recent acts of police violence in one panel, and addressed by current law enforcement officers and community activists in the other.

“Sometimes I just feel so lost,” widow to slain Eric Garner, Esaw Snipes, exclaimed to a crowd of hundreds. “It’s been nine months and I haven’t been able to shake it, sometimes I just want to give up.”

Snipes was not alone in her feelings of despair and anguish. Also on the panel to share their stories were mother to slain Sean Bell, Valerie Bell; father to slain Sean Bell, William Bell; mother to slain Eric Garner, Gwen Carr; father to John Crawford, III, John Crawford, Jr; mother to slain Michael Brown, Lesley McSpadden; and mother to slain Tamir Rice, Samaria Rice.

As celebrity life coach and inspirational speaker, Iyanla Vanzant moderated the conversation, each victim’s family member explained how life has unfolded following the tragic incidents. Some provided anecdotal stories about the past few months and year(s), and others implored the crowd to join them in advocacy efforts for more police accountability.

“Stand with me to have the governor sign an executive order to have a special prosecutor for these types of cases,” Ms. Bell told attendees. “During my son’s trial I watched what was happening. They were badgering witnesses. We need a special prosecutor.”

Rev. Al Sharpton speaks during the 16th National Action Network’s annual national convention opening, Wednesday, April 8, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews) (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

A panel of law enforcement officers and community activists spoke after the victim’s family. Many topics were discussed, but special focus was placed on the “broken window theory.”

One of the authors of that theory, George Kelling was also on the panel. He defended it saying, “I’ve learned my lessons sitting in living rooms and church basements, talking to citizens, many of them African-American or Hispanic, many poor Whites as well. And they wanted order. They didn’t want somebody peeing on their front steps. They wanted that taken care of.”

The broken windows theory debated on during the NAN conference was the main topic of a 1982 article by Kelling and James Wilson.

The two professors postulated that addressing minor disorders in communities is key to deterring major crime. Naysayers – including those on NAN’s panel – attribute this theory to a drive toward numbers and to the increase in incarceration of Black men, instances of police brutality, and discriminatory practices.

“One of the things that we know is that the police are operating out of production goals and most of those production goals are negative,” said founder and CEO of Street Corner Resources, and panelist, Iesha Sekou.

Sekou continued, “We can’t just talk about what’s on paper and there is no real application in the community. You talk to officers about what should be done, but they get in the community and they do what they want to do. We have to make sure that what is on paper is actually applied in the community and we hold them accountable for that.”

Throughout the conference, Sharpton was critical of law enforcement while maintaining that collaboration is necessary to prohibit instances of injustice. He said his focus is also on expanding civil rights (including the right to vote), access to education for all students, and criminal justice reform. As an organization, NAN is pushing for police officers to wear body cameras nationwide, and recently launched a hunger strike campaign in support of Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General who awaits confirmation.