Law enforcement, local residents discuss Ferguson event
Police Chief Longo says department must move forward, gain public trust
“This is a call of arms to you to plan a course of action so that we can begin addressing this in unity. We believe that this tragedy did not just touch Ferguson, but is touching every jurisdiction in America. We are not here to solve the world’s problems tonight, this is just a starting point” Bates said.
Members of the Charlottesville community met with local law enforcement officials Wednesday night at Ebenezer Baptist Church to attend a forum titled “Can Ferguson Happen Here?”
The fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who is black, by a white police officer Aug. 9 spurred Wednesday night’s discussion.
Local advocate Wes Bellamy and Ebenezer Baptist Pastor Lehman Bates organized the event.
Forum leaders encouraged members of the audience to participate in a survey, asking them 10 yes-or-no questions which included: “I have been a victim of police misconduct or blatant disrespect,” “I have been a victim of racial profiling” and “I believe that the events in Ferguson, Missouri can happen here.”
According to the survey, 41 percent of the audience has been a victim of police misconduct and blatant disrespect; 30 percent had been a victim of racial profiling; and 82 percent of the audience believed the events in Ferguson, Missouri could happen in Charlottesville.
Bates said he hoped the forum would serve as an outlet for local voices and provide a “starting point” for active, sustainable community engagement.
“This is a call of arms … to plan a course of action so that we can begin addressing this in unity,” Bates said. “We believe that this tragedy did not just touch Ferguson, but is touching every jurisdiction in America. We are not here to solve the world’s problems tonight. This is just a starting point.”
Citizens in attendance were encouraged to testify to their personal experiences with law enforcement in an open-mic session titled “Let the People Speak.” Participants were permitted to speak for a maximum of two minutes each, and were required to open by completing the statement, “I believe Ferguson can/will/will not/can not happen here.”
Of the seven community members who chose to participate, each stated he or she believes the events which took place in Ferguson, Missouri could also happen in Charlottesville.
“If this means that African-Americans and other minorities in this community experience more exposure to law enforcement, then I think Ferguson is already happening here,” one individual said.
Law enforcement officers also made brief presentations to the audience in a segment titled “Law Enforcement Speaks.”
Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo expressed his dedication to ensuring his police force adheres to a new standard of law enforcement.
“I cannot go back and fix all the things we’ve done wrong,” Longo said. “All I can say is that we have to recommit to certain things; we have to recommit to certain values.”
Longo challenged members of the Charlottesville community to demand transparency in the use of high-risk equipment and resources, which law enforcement officers use to help keep Charlottesville citizens safe.
“This is an evil world, and evil things happen — and when they do, I need to call upon certain equipment and resources to keep us safe,” Longo said. “But when it’s used, ask why, and demand transparency.”
Sheriff James Brown, a law enforcement officer of 23 years and a sheriff since 2010, also expressed his vision for the role of local law enforcement.
“The incident of Ferguson can happen here and in most places, depending on the relationship people have with law enforcement, but also the relationship with other community leaders,” Brown said.
Deputy Chief Ron Lance of Albemarle County expressed his department’s dedication to eliminating racial profiling in the law enforcement sector. For example, all officers are mandated to take a psychological profiling assessment.
Members of the audience were permitted to ask questions to all parties in attendance.
Bates concluded the forum by suggesting various ways the community can use the event as a platform for future progress. Suggestions included challenging community stakeholders to mobilize constituents, encouraging law-enforcement officials to schedule follow-up meetings and asking the clergy to mobilize congregations and establish interfaith partnerships.
The Ebenezer Baptist Church will host a follow-up meeting on Sept. 3 at 6:30 p.m.