Cops And Barbers: A Friendship Forged Between Blacks And Whites In Charlotte, N.C. Shaun Corbett and Rob Dance have an unlikely friendship — a black barbershop owner and a white police captain in a city reeling from a recent police shooting. They speak with NPR's Rachel Martin.
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Cops And Barbers: A Friendship Forged Between Blacks And Whites In Charlotte, N.C.

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Cops And Barbers: A Friendship Forged Between Blacks And Whites In Charlotte, N.C.

Cops And Barbers: A Friendship Forged Between Blacks And Whites In Charlotte, N.C.

Cops And Barbers: A Friendship Forged Between Blacks And Whites In Charlotte, N.C.

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Shaun Corbett and Rob Dance have an unlikely friendship — a black barbershop owner and a white police captain in a city reeling from a recent police shooting. They speak with NPR's Rachel Martin.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to take you now to a barber shop in Charlotte, N.C.

SHAUN CORBETT: Hey, what's up?

ROB DANCE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Hi.

CORBETT: Hey, how you doing?

MARTIN: Shaun?

Inside, the owner of the place, a black guy with tattoos on his neck wearing a black baseball hat, is sitting next to a white police officer who's in uniform. They're huddled around the officer's cellphone, watching video from the protests a couple weeks ago after the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.

What was that?

DANCE: Oh, I was just showing him some clips of downtown when we were down there and...

MARTIN: During the protests?

DANCE: ...Having all the problems.

MARTIN: Captain Rob Dance wears his blond hair in a high and tight buzz cut, and he comes in every once in a while for a haircut or just to catch up with the owner Shaun Corbett. Their friendship started out as an experiment based on this theory Shaun had that if police officers knew the people they served - really knew them - it could change behavior on both sides.

CORBETT: I have yet to see a officer shoot someone that they know or they've had positive encounters with. I am 100 percent certain that if I get pulled over by Rob, he's not going to shoot me in the street.

MARTIN: It was with that in mind that Shaun Corbett started the program he calls Cops and Barbers, and it's a lot of different things. He brings in police officers to schools. He holds pizza dinners with teenage kids and cops from the area. He also just opens his doors to police officers and encourages them to come in and hang out. Shaun Corbett remembers how awkward it was in the beginning, though.

CORBETT: You probably don't even notice this. I can remember when you first start coming in here, people's kids wouldn't even talk to you. They would go and get right close to their parent when he would come in. Like, they would go just get close to their parent.

MARTIN: How did that make you feel, Rob?

DANCE: Well, I mean, you know, it makes you realize that it doesn't matter how you feel about certain things. Or it doesn't matter how much you are a part of the problem or how little of a part of the problem you are, it's a reality.

MARTIN: So what does this kind of dialogue that you want to create, how does it - what does it look like in reality?

CORBETT: Well, exactly just what you see right here today, what me and Rob were doing before you walked in. We was just - it's conversations. We take the officers from that neighborhood and pair them up with kids from that neighborhood, and we take them out to dinner. That's the first stage.

And it's actually funny because everybody's sitting there stone-faced. Nobody's saying a word. But by the time the food come out and everybody start eating, you realize that I love Cam Newton. I love Cam Newton. I go to the games every Sunday. You want to come with me? And so it's - it starts the conversation to realize that we're all human.

MARTIN: Have all of your officers bought into this?

DANCE: Well, no, obviously. I mean, I don't think you're ever going to have a hundred percent buy-in. I think that it - one of the main problems when you start talking about race and some of those issues is some of the common things that you hear is, I'm not part of the problem. I don't have a problem with race. That's really where the problem is.

I'm sending a bunch of young officers that really don't understand, a large group of them at least, some of the historical problems with race, some of the problems that we face in our community - I'm sending them out to address these problems without any knowledge. And when they go out there and then they are faced with people who, many times, dislike them and are frustrated with them because of what's happened in the last 10 years and there are a hundred encounters in the place where they live, the officers are human, too. And for them not to leave at the end of the day feeling frustrated the way that they were treated in the neighborhood, you know, you can have tensions build very, very easily.

MARTIN: Well, let me ask you, Shaun, have you gotten pushback from people in your own community? Neighbors, kids, being like, Shaun, why do you want me to go hang out with cops? And you're just, like, a PR machine for the cops?

CORBETT: Well, I mean, at first - and that's with anything new. But I think my reputation in the community is strong enough. See, like, I was in the community even before Cops and Barbers. I'm in six years of business, so I've been doing a book bag drives, turkey drives. So generally, when I kind of say something, people are like OK, I don't know. But...

MARTIN: Yeah.

CORBETT: ...Let's see what happens.

MARTIN: At one point in our conversation, Shaun Corbett sort of resets, as if to underscore how close he and Captain Rob Dance have become.

CORBETT: Rob's my guy. Like, he's really my guy. Like, I text him, check in, how you doing? Like, well, OK, I'm going to tell you this story.

MARTIN: Tell it.

CORBETT: And this is just the funniest thing. Every year I take my kids to - we do the summer family trip.

MARTIN: He goes on to say that his kids each got to bring friends on this trip. His son's friend came over on a Saturday morning. They packed up the car, but Shaun was renting a car for the long drive, so they drove over to the rental agency and piled into the new rental car.

It's evening by the time they're sitting there ready to go, and Shaun looks over at his son's friend and asks him where his bag is. The kid tells him he's left his bag in the trunk of Shaun's car, which is now locked up behind the big gate at the rental agency, which has now closed for the day. Shaun mulls his options.

CORBETT: My car is locked in the thing. They've been closed for three hours. And so I'm thinking - and I was like, man, I can climb the fence. And then I'm like, OK, that might not go well. So I was like, you know what, let me call Rob.

DANCE: Black guy with tattoos on my neck, it's not going to look good if I'm climbing a fence.

CORBETT: Yeah, so I call Rob and I say, hey, Rob, man, I got a issue. First he laughs. Like, he thought it was, like, the funniest thing. And so he said, well, what time do you want to come? I said, well, about 8 o'clock. So he's like, all right, I'll have somebody there. So when I get there, not only does he have two officers there, he got the sergeant on duty. They got their lights blaring. And literally, the sergeant helps me climb the fence.

MARTIN: Uh-uh.

CORBETT: Helped me climb the fence.

I go to the car, get the suitcases out. I'm actually taking the suitcases and handing them to the sergeant on duty over the fence. Like, this is, like, literally some breaking and entering-type situation. So - but the long story short is if I wouldn't have called him, that would have probably been a different situation.

MARTIN: Things feel different in Charlotte. After the death of Keith Lamont Scott and the protests that followed, the past couple of weeks have been traumatic for this city.

So you started this whole kind of dialogue, this program, two years ago. What did this shooting change for you, the death of Keith Lamont Scott?

CORBETT: Well, definitely - first of all, my prayers go out to the families, all the families involved, the injured officers, Keith Lamont Scott's family, everybody. Like, we start there. But it just lets me know that, you know, there's more work to be done, which I already knew. But, like, someone asked me one time, well, do you think that Cops and Barbers was a failure because of what happened? No, you can't gauge that 'cause think about how many situations probably didn't happen because these officers are now knowing people in the community. Just think about how many situations could have - that have been prevented that we don't even know.

DANCE: Although it's been a challenging few weeks in Charlotte, you know, I was downtown on the police side. Shaun was down there with the protesters, you know, frustrated with some of the things that were happening. And we're friends.

CORBETT: You just got to continue to work. Like, that's the thing. You have to continue to work and lay the foundation and blueprint for your kids to take over because me and Rob, we're not going to end all of this. But what we just do - you do our part. And hopefully you touch enough people to invoke them to want to continue building that gap because, you know, war is won over a series of small battles.

MARTIN: And with that, the two men go in for the classic man hug and embrace with a couple of friendly slaps on the back. And they make plans for their next event.

DANCE: Tell Danny (ph) to call me and we'll touch base. We'll see you, guys.

CORBETT: I'll have - matter of fact, Rob, I'll have Danny call you Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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