The needler in the haystack.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Excellent forum on police and justice lacked one thing

Quote from Dr. King at last Sunday's solidarity march
by St. Mark's Episcopal Church members says it all.
(Image courtesy David Rutherford, PlainfieldView.)

An excellent forum on police-community relations and the justice system hosted by Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp and Shiloh Baptist Church pastor Dr. Gerald Lamont Thomas was held Thursday evening at Shiloh.

By the end of the meeting, attendance had swelled to perhaps three hundred people, but noticeably lacking were the city's youth. I spotted barely a handful of young people of high school and college age.

Pastor Rufus McClendon of First-Park Baptist Church moderated the meeting -- doing an excellent job of setting the ground rules (look forward, ask questions, suggest improvements) and gently enforcing them when audience members strayed.

Dr.Thomas set the tone in his opening remarks, noting there were two pruposes in the forum: First, in solidarity and commitment to honor the memories of those who have died at the hands of police through building a social justice movement; and Second, to dialog with elected officials, community leaders and law enforcement professionals about steps to move forward.

Besides Mayor Mapp, panelists included Carl Riley, Plainfield's police and public safety director; Dara Govan, an attorney with the Department of Justice; Gary Holden, leader of a police chaplain training program; Rutgers student Analise Rivera; Byron Ward, president of the Plainfield chapter of Omega Psi Phi; and Plainfield police lieutenants Troy Edwards and Craig Venson.

This is not the first community forum in Plainfield to touch on these issues, though recent events around the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have brought a new urgency to the discussion. Mayor Mapp and Director Riley are bringing their own emphases and focuses to the discussion and it is reassuring to hear Director Riley talk about improving community policing, as well as bringing technology -- body cams -- into the mix to try and help sort out difficult situations.

Better communications between the police and the community were a main focus, and examples of opportunities (such as a NOBLE program at the Second Street Youth Center and the Boys & Girls Club) were cited.

Chaplain Holden, who is from Vineland, outlined advantages a program of training several chaplains to work with the police and community have had statewide.

The audience was attentive and respectful, interrupting frequently with mild applause. About fifteen people came to the mike to ask questions or relate their own experiences with police interactions. Pastor McClendon kept folks focused, gently guiding away from the snares of anger and axe-grinding.

The only need not met -- in my humble opinion -- at the meeting was the lack of a strong presence and input from the young people, concerns about the safety of whom weighed on the minds and hearts of those in attendance.

Some serious thought needs to be given by both elected officials and community leaders as to why they were not more visibly present Thursday evening.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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