Get. Home. Safe.
That’s what a Greenville pastor said he hopes was the takeaway of a Zoom town hall that dealt with Black Americans encountering police in today’s racially divisive climate.
The Rev. Stacey Mills facilitated the “Policing in the African American Community,” session which he said was aimed at “helping young people build positive pathways to interacting with Public Safety.”
Pastor Stacey Mills has served at Mountain View Baptist Church in Greenville for 22 years. Picture taken Wednesday, August 28, 2019. (Photo: SABRINA SCHAEFFER/Staff)
“We simply must stop the killing of young Black people, male and female, during interactions with police,” said Mills, chair of the Greenville Citizen Advisory Panel on Public Safety. “Simple traffic stops and minor infractions should not end in death.”
The session came on the heels of a summer of filled with local and worldwide marches for police reform and against racial injustice. It also follows after a new study by Statista revealing that the rate of fatal police shootings of Black Americans in the United States this year has been higher than any other ethnicity as of September.
The rate of fatal police shootings of Black Americans between 2015 and September 2020 stood at 32 per million of the population, while for White Americans, the rate stood at 13 fatal police shootings per million of the population, according to the study.
Hiram Springle, founder of Unity Sports Soccer Club, which hosted the session, said in an email that he, like everyone else, is stunned by what is happening today in this country.
In light of the current environment and how young Black males have always been perceived in this country, Springle said, Unity Sports is hosting a series of Zoom sessions to help young males — middle school age and up — navigate today’s “often hostile environment and to cope in healthy ways that will positively impact their lives.”
Shaharazad Byrd, a Simpsonville police officer, was asked what advice she would give to young men and women about getting home safe with an encounter with law enforcement.
She said her answer was not just for teenagers, but “for all of us, including me, because I still get scared when a police officer gets behind me.”
Be respectable toward the officer, she said. She also recommended keeping registration, proof of insurance, and other vital information on the sun visor so the officer can see what you’re searching for.
Most of us keep it in our glove compartment, where an officer may think you’re reaching for something else like a gun or some type of weapon, she said.
If you have a concealed weapon permit, let the officer know, as well as where the weapon is kept.
Recent survey: Citizen panelists bemoan lack of young, Black, male voices in police survey
Dexter Reeves, a 24-year veteran of the Greer City Police and the Greenville County Sheriff’s departments, also stressed being humble when approached by police.
“Of course we’re not saying everything a police officer says and does is right,” Reeves said. “Nobody’s perfect, but being respectful and humble in your approach when asking questions and dealing the police could probably eliminate some major, major issues that we experience in today’s society.”
It’s not just about being respectful, according to Karen Baynes-Dunning, a former juvenile court judge and a member of the Greenville Citizen Advisory Panel on Public Safety. It’s being strategic.
“Be your authentic self in a very strategic way,” she said. “You’ve got to think about it as being strategic to get home to enlist the help of others and then get the justice that you likely deserve.”
Baynes-Dunning also stressed the importance of knowing your rights and when to assert them.
“That’s something that we should all educate ourselves about, whether or not you’re giving permission to have your vehicle searched, or to have somebody come into your home without a warrant,” she said.
“What you say and do in your engagement with law enforcement can be used against you in a court of law,” she said.
“If you’re somewhere at 3 a.m, walking in the middle of the street and you’re stopped by an officer, that’s not necessarily the time to say, ‘what’s your probable cause for stopping me?’” she said.
And, Baynes-Dunning said, “If it’s just you and that officer, you’ve got to make sure that you’re protecting yourself until you can get to a place where you can assert those rights.
Otherwise, she said, “It could really go south quickly.”
Mills also asked panelists to share the message parents need to send to their children before they leave home.
Baynes-Dunning said the message goes back to our grandparents — “remember who you are and whose you are. Remember that you’ve got to be twice as good to get half as much.”
“As much progress as we’ve made in America, we still got a long way to go,” she said
When they are with say their white friends who are misbehaving and doing the things that they can do and it’s seen as innocent, teenage pranks or behavior, “it may not end the same way for them and those are hard discussions that we have to have with our children, but we have to have them,” she said.
About 70 people registered for Tuesday’s the session. The event had nearly 300 viewers on Facebook Live.
The discussion by panelists included the potential impact of the Supreme Court nominee on the law enforcement community and the criminal justice system, pitfalls in law enforcement, and issues that officers themselves face.
Questions from the chat audience included, “What does policing the African American community include? Who will do the policing and how should they be trained? How can a young Black male be safe during this type of policing? What changes should the African American expect to see as it relates to policing?
Unity Sports’ next Zoom session, “Peer pressure and gang affiliation,” will be Nov. 10. The sessions are open to anyone who has an interest in the topic.
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