Panelists expound on police culture at forum

August 4, 2016 in News

By Shanderia K. Posey

Editor

Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber

Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber

Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber held a community forum titled “Us and Them: A Conversation on Race, Black Lives and the Police,” at 6 p.m. July 28, in the Murrah High School auditorium.

The purpose of the event was to generate real, honest conversation regarding recent events across the nation involving police shootings of unarmed black men as well as the shooting deaths of police officers. It also highlighted Jackson’s community policing efforts and aimed to increase understanding of police culture.

About 100 people came to hear from several panelists representing local law enforcement agencies, community and national groups as well as youth.

Panelists included Maisie Brown, a student at Jim Hill High School; Minister Abram Muhammad, the State Representative of Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam; Allen White, Jackson assistant police chief; Lee Vance, Jackson police chief; Gail Lowery, special assistant to the city attorney; John Knight, director of Jackson Cares; Kim Robinson, program manager with Children’s Defense Fund Southern Regional Office; Victor Mason, Hinds County sheriff; and Luke Thompson, Byram police chief.

The event was moderated by Othor Cain, local media personality. One of the first questions he presented was directed to Thompson. Cain asked that in light of events around the country merged with happenings in Hinds County, “What do you think the problem is?”

Thompson referred back to the tragedy that happened in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 9, 2014, when Mike Brown, 18, was shot and killed by a police officer. Specifically, he compared the make-up of Ferguson, Mo., to local communities.

“One of the things that stuck out was the involvement of the police department in the community. One thing I noticed personally was that the Ferguson, Mo., police department was not very well connected, and there was a fundamental disconnect with the community and the police department,” Thompson said. “One of the things we have strived to do since then is to reconnect and make connections that didn’t exist before.”

Mason agreed with Thompson’s response.

“You can’t stay locked up in the office all day,” said Mason, a former juvenile investigator. “If I didn’t speak at your school, I spoke at your church. What I believe helped me was to understand where young people were coming from.”

Vance weighed in on the question noting that the results in Ferguson were much more complicated that one’s death.

“It’s the result of a culture that probably existed there for a long time,” Vance said. “If there’s no relationship between law enforcement and the community then those types of things will fester.

“In Jackson … I can remember the way things used to be done and the way they are done now. If you are wise, you must adopt a community-oriented policing concept. Basically it’s an attitude adjustment on the part of law enforcement, which basically says we are going to reach out to the community in many ways.”

Vance also emphasized how the 18,000 police departments across the nation operate independently of each other.

“If you are in a police culture that allows abuse, then that’s gonna manifest itself. If you are in a police culture that despises abuse, then the community will trust you.”

Knight blamed ignorance and/or lack of knowledge on why problems exist.

“A lot of black people are not told or read their rights,” said Knight said, who expressed that police presence in the community will not be enough. “You have to gain trust back.” He recalled the effects of growing up and seeing aggression from officers in the community. “So the thing is when you see another person get beat up by the police or slammed down on the face for a traffic ticket or no driver’s license … that makes you have a little strife toward the officer.”

Brown shared her perspective on the problem from her generation’s vantage point.

“This distrust of police in the African-American community … dates back to slavery days. During the Civil Rights Movement, your policemen were spraying you with fire hoses … so if somebody is constantly doing these things to you from generation to generations, there’s obviously going to be a distrust mentally … even if they do come and shake your hand and take pictures. So I think that it’s something the police can help, but it really starts in our own community. Our family members must gain trust because that’s the only way the years of damage can be undone.”

Shanderia K. Posey can be reached at sposey@mississippilink.com.