The controversy surrounding Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and John Crawford III — and the police officers who killed them — continues into the new year, as well as how law enforcement is viewed by those in the black community.
On Dec. 22, there was a march in downtown Youngstown calling attention to those deaths, two of them unarmed black men.
Tamir, a 12-year-old from the Cleveland area, was shot even though he had a toy gun in his possession. Crawford was carrying a pellet rifle and talking on a cellphone in a Walmart store in Beavercreek, Ohio, when he was killed by police.
Also on Dec. 22, there was a town-hall discussion that drew about 400 people to Union Baptist Church on the city’s North Side on the question “Does Race Matter?”
Race relations are fractured in our city, and if truth be told, probably across our nation. As a nation, we must address, and try to solve, the conundrum of how whites, blacks and other minorities can continue learning how to respect their differences, but not allow those differences to fester into race hatred and distrust.
This month we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the good work of this country’s civil-rights movement. It is important to step back and try to put in perspective the disconnect between the minority community and police officers.
Two New York City police officers were ambushed and killed last month by a black man who shortly thereafter committed suicide. He may have had some mental problems.
The shootings put police officers nationwide on heightened alert.
I think black police officers are particularly in a sticky situation. They protect and serve like their white counterparts. But once they take off the uniform, are they viewed the same way when they enter a store to shop?
There was a community forum last month on policing at New Bethel Baptist Church on the city’s South Side.
That forum dealt with safety problems and concerns of the community while avoiding attacking police officers.
The dialogue was on how to ensure police accountability, transparency and effectiveness and emphasized that city residents must be active partners to make that happen.
Among the topics discussed were diversity training, use of force, and innovations in recruiting and hiring and equity in justice.
That event was sponsored by retired Youngstown Police Department Ranking Officers. Anita Davis, a retired black Youngstown detective sergeant who spent 35 years in the department, was the coordinator.
On Friday, another forum on policing will take place at First Presbyterian Church, 201 Wick Ave., in downtown Youngstown.
The person behind this event is Delphine Baldwin-Casey, also a retired black police officer who now is a consultant and certified Ohio police instructor. Baldwin-Casey specializes in diversity training. The forum’s topic is “Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes.”
It is a free workshop, and there are three continuing education units for social workers and counselors by Help Hotline and continual professional training for police officers.
The workshop specifically will address ways to strengthen the relations between police and minority communities. The workshop will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. Attendance is limited, so contact Baldwin-Casey at 330-559-1927 or 330-953-2652 to register.
Scheduled facilitators are the Rev. Dr. Lewis Macklin, pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church of Youngstown and a licensed social worker, and Sarah V. Lown, adjunct professor of religion at Youngstown State University and founding director of Mahoning Valley Dispute Resolution Service. Mayor John A. McNally also is scheduled to attend a portion of the workshop, Baldwin-Casey said.
Baldwin-Casey has been featured in this column on several occasions. She worked 31 years for the city police department and was the first woman commanding officer to head a YPD unit — the Crisis Intervention Unit, created to deal with violent crimes committed against women.
“As a citizen, black female, retired police officer and a cultural-diversity instructor, I have a responsibility to be a role model,” Baldwin-Casey said. “That means teaching young people to respect authority and reminding police officers not to abuse the powers of authority that have been entrusted to them.”
She said many young people today don’t respect their parents, let alone police officers. But, she added, there are far more people trying to do the right thing in the community and on police forces.
That is why a continuing, constructive dialogue, not inflammatory rhetoric, is needed to bridge the gap between the community and its police officers.
“We should be our brother’s keeper, and all lives should matter,” Baldwin-Casey said.
Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. Contact him at email@example.com.