Human Relations Commission hosts virtual Community Trust Talks

Human Relations Commission hosts virtual Community Trust Talks
July 01
14:39 2020

Chief Thompson, Sheriff Kimbrough and others discuss reform, defunding law enforcement

For at least the past five years, the city’s Human Relations Commission has invited people from all walks of life to come together and have serious conversations on ways to help make our community a better place. Wanda Allen Abraha, human relations director, said the vision for the Community Trust Talks was to facilitate positive dialogue on sensitive topics such as race and social injustice. 

“We wanted to reach out to the community to make sure we are facilitating positive and productive conversation,” she said. “As we all know, this is a time of a lot of tumultuous things going on in the United States … We wanted to provide a forum for you to be able to interact and engage with community leaders, as well as community citizens and residents here in Winston-Salem, about their perspectives with respect to racial inequality and social injustice issues.” 

The first ever virtual Community Trust Talk held last week was moderated by Emmy nominated news anchor Wanda Starke. Panelists included: Chief Catrina Thompson; Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough; James Perry, CEO of the Winston-Salem Urban League; James Taylor III, secretary of the Winston-Salem Youth Advisory Council; Pastor Robert Leake III, community organizer and chair of the Human Relations Commission; Sonny Haynes, local attorney with Womble Bond Dickinson; and Dr. Jack Monell, associate professor and program coordinator of justice studies at Winston-Salem State University. 

With the senseless murder of George Floyd still fresh on the minds of people across the country, much of the discussion focused on the need for police reform and calls for defunding law enforcement. Taylor, who is a rising senior at Forsyth Middle College, said when he saw Floyd murdered by officers with the Minneapolis Police Department, he was furious. 

“I was kind of shocked that a police officer who is supposed to protect us would commit such a heinous act,” Taylor said. 

When asked directly if police misconduct is a result of “a few bad apples” or a systemic issue, Chief Catrina Thompson said she believes there is both. “I believe there is systemic racism, particularly within law enforcement and I also believe agencies across our country, and we’re not immune to it … have had bad apples.” She mentioned that since 2017, three officers within the WSPD have been terminated and arrested for criminal activity. And there is a history of law enforcement being used to oppress Black people. 

“There are still clearly some systemic changes that need to happen across the board within law enforcement, but I also believe that there are bad apples,” Thompson said. “And while I can’t speak for other agencies, what I can tell you is that here in Winston-Salem we are extremely serious about dealing with bad apples, because we know they can destroy the integrity and reputation of our organization.”

Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough echoed Thompson’s sentiments when discussing bad apples within the Forsyth County Sheriff’s office. He said, “When I get a hint of it, we point them to the door. I have zero tolerance for that.”

As mentioned earlier, another hot topic was defunding law enforcement. Dr. Monell said defunding the police ultimately means reallocating resources and funding to programs that address social issues, mental health, and education. Despite what many believe, Monell said defunding law enforcement doesn’t mean taking police off the streets. 

“First and foremost we’re not talking about taking away police officers’ jobs … that’s not the language nor the context … What it means is to reallocate and redistribute resources,” Monell continued, “… to programs that will work collaboratively with our respective departments so that hopefully on the front end, we can continue to develop and foster those positive relationships that ultimately will benefit all of us.

“I do realize that this is oftentimes not a popular sentiment by many in law enforcement, but the reality of it is that we have to consider something.” 

Sheriff Kimbrough said defunding law enforcement is a bad idea because it would cut funding for a department that’s already underfunded. He said if you want law enforcement to be better, you have to fund continuous training. 

He said he’s all for supporting social programs, but we need to find another way to do it besides defunding law enforcement.

“You’re moving money from something that’s already underfunded. And that’s why when people have those conversations, I’m looking for someone to explain to me how is it going to benefit the Black and brown people?” Kimbrough continued. “I’m all for putting money in social programs; we do it here … we’ve built playgrounds, we’ve given $50,000 to the local schools here. I’m all for that, but we need to find money outside of defunding the police.” 

Chief Thompson said when officers can stop responding to “involuntary commitments,” she would be happy with reallocating some funding from the police department. She said, “We’re expected to be everything – teachers, babysitters, healthcare workers, mental health providers, oh and by the way, handle crime as well. 

“So if we can get out of the business of responding to involuntary commitments … someone having a mental health crisis, or we can get out of responding to calls where someone finds a snake in their yard and don’t know what to do with it; if we can get out of the business of standby while someone gets their property out of their home … if we could get out of some of those things, I’d be happy to reallocate our funding to those people or organizations that provide those things.”

Before wrapping up the panel discussion, Starke allowed panelists to make closing remarks and the best advice for the community may have come from attorney Sonny Haynes. Although most of the conversation focused on the changes within law enforcement, Haynes reminded the community that all branches of the government play a role in the process. 

“We have to pay attention to the political process, not just with the police chief or the sheriff who is elected,” Haynes said. “Prosecutors make the decisions about whether to file a criminal charge. Judges are the ones hearing the cases, whether it’s a criminal case or a civil case, so all of those parts of the local political process have to work together.” 

The Human Relations Commission is comprised of 13 members who are appointed by the city council. The purpose of the commission is to educate, create, facilitate, promote, anticipate, study, and recommend programs, projects, feedback, and actions for the elimination of discrimination in any and all fields of human relationships.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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