City officials, coalition promote night event with police chief

City officials, coalition promote  night event with police chief
April 02
00:00 2015
(Above: Photo by Erin Mizelle for The Chronicle- Winston-Salem Police Chief Barry Rountree and Olivia Sedwick, the president of Winston-Salem State University’s Student Government Association, prepare to take questions from the audience at the “Black Lives Matter Late Night Musical” event on Friday, March 27.)

The event was in a church and a pastor was in charge, but the “Black Lives Matter Late Night Musical” event showcased several city officials, including the mayor, making a pitch to an audience of young and old mostly black people Friday night, March 27.

The event started at 10 p.m. in a packed Diggs Memorial United Holy Church, south of downtown Winston-Salem.

Gospel choirs, a mime group, a gospel rap group and others entertained the audience after a program educating the audience on the Police Department and community relations was presented.

“It is important for me to be here as mayor of this city to say ‘black lives matter,’ Mayor Allen Joines said.

The phrase has been used since police killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black males, last year. The slayings prompted outrage and demonstrations nationwide, including in Winston-Salem.

The Friday event was billed as one sponsored by the mayor and the Faith-based Coalition, which includes several city and federal-level officials and Winston-Salem NAACP president S. Wayne Patterson. Coalition members at the event were Patterson, Council Member Derwin Montgomery and Police Chief Barry Rountree.  Diggs Memorial’s group My Brother’s Keeper, also is a member of the coalition.

“This is meaningful for a lot of different reasons,” Montgomery said. He said all sectors of the community should be in constant dialogue.

Joines praised Rountree for his efforts to build relationships in the community.

“You do it to prevent problems going forward,” Joines said.

Rountree said that during a time when there is rampant distrust across the nation between communities and the police forces in those communities, “I am here to say black lives matter, and we’re here to say all lives matter.” He acknowledged the large number of young people at the event because, he said, he supports them.

The president of Winston-Salem State University’s (WSSU) Student Government Association, Olivia Sedwick, also was at the event. She praised the “Trust Talks” that the city police and WSSU students have had, the latest one late last month. The Trust Talks are spearheaded by the city’s Human Rights Commission and bring two sides together for frank discussions, which in this case, center around the police-and-student relationship at WSSU.

“It was a wonderful success. We were grateful” for the opportunity to talk, she said.

“It shows we need some understanding to work with police.”

Sedwick passed out information from the Police Department’s website that gives ways people should react to police. She said she wants people “to understand it’s not all the policeman’s fault. We need to govern ourselves as well.”

Elder Lamonte Williams, pastor of Diggs Memorial and a facilitator of the event, brought Rountree and Sedwick to the front of the audience to answer some questions.

One man in the audience asked: “As a 40-year-old black man in this community, how can we get our people in this community to be less intimidated against police?”

Rountree said: “What we try to do is come out and engage people at events like this.” Sedwick said that people should go to the Police Department’s website, which will help explain how to interact with police, and should attend community events to find out information.

“There’re a lot of things going on that most of us were not aware of,” she said.

Rountree mentioned some initiatives the Police Department have that engage the community:

*A Citizen Police Academy, in which people get an inside look at how the Police Department works. The academy will be 13 weeks, beginning April 16, but the deadline to apply was Monday, March 30.

*Ride-alongs, in which people ride with a police officer who is on duty to see what the officer has to handle daily. “It’s not always like it is on TV,” Rountree said.

Rountree also introduced the Police Department’s community relations officer, who works to resolve disputes between people “who don’t get along” and meets with neighbors and citizens.

Community Relations Specialist Pamela Peoples-Joyner spoke about SOAR (Successful Outcomes After Release). This is a program that uses city funds to help people who have criminal records. She mentioned that she works with programs such as Team BAM (Becoming a Man), a group that helps male teens.

Artemus Peterson, who leads the Team BAM program, was in the audience. Williams acknowledged the work he does and took up a donation to support the program.

After being asked about job opportunities with the Police Department, Rountree said there are several kinds of opportunities there.

*Sworn-in positions, such as police officers.

*Dispatchers, who take 911 calls.

*Positions in forensics (as seen on TV shows such as “CSI”).

*Positions in the crime analysis department.

Rountree also mentioned a scholarship program the police department has for college students. If college students agree to serve as a police officer for three years after graduation, the Police Department will pay the students’ tuition for their sophomore, junior and senior years.

Another area Rountree addressed was the Police Department’s use of body cameras. He said the department started testing body cameras two or three years ago, and about 340 police officers use them now. This includes 20 school resource officers and officers in traffic enforcement. The police department has an authorized strength of 559 sworn police officers

Rountree said that officers can turn the cameras on and off but he asks that officers use them when interacting with people. Only supervisors or an officer can view the footage from the cameras, and no employee can manipulate the footage. CDs of the footage can be made for trials or investigations.

He also mentioned that the Police Department will be phasing out cameras in cars at some point.

Montgomery provided some background about why there is so much discussion and attention being paid to the police-and-citizens relationship.

“Winston-Salem has had its own history of things that have taken place in the past,” he said. He mentioned the Darryl Hunt case, in which an innocent black Winston-Salem man in 1984 was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a young white woman.

He was acquitted after 19½ years in prison.

(Also, as part of that history with police, a riot erupted on Liberty Street in 1967 after police killed a black man during an arrest for drunkenness.)

Montgomery said Winston-Salem now has a Citizens’ Police Review Board, which serves as an advisory board to the city manager and Public Safety Committee.

(The Board, instituted in 1993, reviews citizens’ request for appeals of the police chief’s decision regarding complaints against Police Department employees, receives and reviews a summary of internal and externally made complaints against police officers and other duties.)

“We can say now with this police’ systems and policies are in place to try to prevent future such occurrences.

“Nobody’s perfect and things continue to happen. That’s why we continue to have forums like this,” Montgomery said.

He said Trust Talks should continue. “It just means we’ve done a lot of things that other cities haven’t done,” he said. “In that respect, we’re ahead of the curve.”

Patterson and Montgomery touched on the importance of action after the event.

“We’re all going to have a good time, but at the end of the day, we must be proactive,” Patterson said.

“Moreso for me, the question is, what do we do when we leave here tonight”? Montgomery said.

“I hope when you leave here tonight, you feel empowered to do something.”

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Donna Rogers

Donna Rogers

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