Men for Hope, Inc., a 501(c) founded to support underserved men, organize efforts in the community, and work with other organizations providing services for single women parenting young men, hosted a free forum on community policing entitled “Coffee & Conversation” last Sunday at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott.
The event featured a panel forum comprised of the charity’s founder — Tony Brothers, ESPN journalist — Jay Harris, Norfolk’s Mayor Kenneth Alexander, the attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family — Benjamin Crump, Founder of the National Center for the Prevention of Community Violence — Bobby Kipper, Portsmouth Police Department Chief Tonya Chapman, Norfolk’s Circuit Court Judge — Jerrauld Jones, CrossRoads Church Pastor Kevin Tremper, Gethsemane Community Fellowship Baptist Church Reverend Dr. Kirk Houston , Global Head of Diversity & Work-Life at Morgan Stanley — Marilyn Booker, and Norfolk Chief of Police — Michael Goldsmith. Regent University’s Dr. Antipas Harris served as moderator.
The resulting conversation was at times illuminating, thought-provoking, and revealing. After attending and listening to the discussion, I was left with the following musings:
1. Parts of our communities are deeply attentive to the issue of police violence.
Turnout for this event was strong for a Sunday afternoon. The community is continuing to apply pressure in the wake of mass protests drawing thousands just three months ago. Student action groups sprung up almost overnight, and neighborhood civic leagues are growing increasingly vocal.
Citizens must continue to apply pressure to local government if we’re going to see real change. If the attendance at this forum is any indication? Norfolkians are paying close attention to how the city proceeds.
2. Congress isn’t going to fix this.
Bobby Scott stands on a firmly progressive record and enjoyed 94% of the vote the last time he was up for re-election, running unopposed.
However, given the composition of our state government and how closely aligned state Republicans are with the GoP controlled House of Representatives? The poor response conservatives in general have displayed thus far to Black Lives Matter? Momentum on this issue isn’t going to come from Congress or the State Legislature. It’s up to the city to handle the issue.
Scott is a reliably liberal vote in the House, but until something changes there? I don’t see much he can do to affect progress. That said: If the left does manage to flip Congress this year, however unlikely the notion? Scott will find himself quickly in a position to affect outcomes. As such it was nice to see him show up to something like this. It shows he’s paying attention.
Given the court-ordered redrawing of Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, which withdraws a sizable number of people who voted for Scott, this doesn’t necessarily help his numbers in the next election. Supporting something like this could be viewed as a minor act of political courage before an electorate which may be less inclined to view movements like BLM favorably in coming years.
Kudos to him for speaking out. Yet another reason I’m proud he’s my representative.
3. Police Chief Mike Goldsmith appears to get it.
As the first Police Chief in our city to rise to his position from within the ranks in over two decades, Goldsmith is an anomaly. A resident of Norfolk since 1977, he began serving on the force in 1989. Consider his direct statements in regards to police brutality and racial profiling:
Roughly paraphrased, he stated: “There is no denying that the traditions and culture of policing in this country is steeped in problems between Police and communities of color. Police were unequivocally used historically as an instrument of control over those populations. When you put on this uniform, you are picking up baggage.” Goldsmith continued to speak in clear and certain terms: “We have a responsibility to treat people with dignity and respect.”
That said, Norfolk’s sky high rate of death by police has happened under his watch. Talking the talk is one thing, but now we need to see action.
He closed his comments in response to the question of how real the problem is by remarking to the effect that police departments are being overly tasked to deal with issues that shouldn’t be on their plate. Saying, “If someone has a heart attack, you call an ambulance. But if you have someone with a mental health problem? Why do we call the Police?”
The man has a point.
It’s more than time to begin rolling back the encroachment of legal enforcement we deal with on a day to day basis. And that’s not on the Police — that’s on us and our elected representatives.
4. All Eyes are on Mayor Kenny Alexander
How Kenny Alexander handles this issue may well define his political legacy, and decide whether he serves beyond the next three years of his current term. His initial push into this area, turning over investigations of police shootings over to state law enforcement is encouraging. I look forward to his next move.
Equally important are the ongoing investigations into Norfolk City Treasurer Anthony Burfoot’s alleged corruption. Add to that the very recent bombshell of developer Ronnie Boone’s confession on counts of bribing public officials, and the very specific charge that at least one more high level official accepted money illegally for influence? When that name comes out, public trust in our city officials is only get worse.
Newly elected, and largely viewed as a fresh face in city government? Our Mayor has a unique opportunity to counter this by delivering results and reducing police violence on our streets.
5. White Norfolk needs to wake up and engage.
It was difficult not to notice that both the panel and the audience were overwhelmingly black. Whither White Norfolk? Until all of us stand together, there’s only going to be more violence and unrest. A cynical viewpoint might note that by and large moneyed interests in this city view the issue primarily through the lens of a bad branding situation. After all, who wants to spend tourist dollars in a city whose slogan might well read: “Norfolk. Home of the Brave and Bulletridden. Come Get Shot by the Police!”
People are dying.
Parts of this city resemble third-world countries. The situations in some of these neighborhoods aren’t a branding issue. They’re death sentences. Slow or quick, the ends are the same.
That has to change.