When the Rev. David Blow and his wife, the Rev. Danita Blow, were stopped by a Flagler County sheriff’s deputy recently on their way to church, the black couple became wary.
“In this climate, you don’t want a traffic stop on your way to church to end your life,” David Blow said during a town hall meeting Tuesday evening (July 12) at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church of Palm Coast, where he’s youth minister.
Blow then alluded to “the talk” – the term African-American parents use to denote the cautionary advice they give their male children on how to handle encounters with law enforcement. And Blow alluded to two recent, graphically gruesome viral videos that show black men dying after being shot by police.
“You have to be very guarded about your interaction with police departments,” Blow said during the town hall organized by the Flagler County branch of the NAACP. “One of the tensions about the talk is you tell your children if you do A, B, C and D if you’re stopped, all will be well. But then on TV they see people do A, B, C and D and it doesn’t go well.”
“We watched a gentleman die on camera simply because he told the officer that he needed to reach for identification,” Danita Blow told the audience of some 80 attendees.
The Flagler County officer “pulled us over, detained us, asked us for ID, gave us our stuff back and sent us on our way,” David Blow said, leaving the couple feeling that they had been racially profiled.
The recent police killing of those two black men, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castille in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn. (see below), plus the subsequent revenge killing of five white Dallas police officers by an African-American, former Army Reservist named Micah Johnson, prompted the Flagler County NAACP to host the town hall meeting.
The Falcon Heights Shooting
Panelists included David Blow, Flagler NAACP president and former New York City police officer Linda Sharpe-Matthews, and three white members of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office: Chief Deputy Jeff Hoffman, Commander Steve Brandt and Sgt. Mike Lutz. Danita Blow moderated the event.
Attendees included Larry Jones, the lone African-American candidate among nine running for Flagler County Sheriff (Jones did not address the crowd); Adrienne Felton, an African-American woman and a human resource specialist with the sheriff’s department; and Denise Calderwood, a Republican candidate for Flagler County Commission District 5 and one of only five white people in the audience.
The concept of community policing received ample attention.
“Community policing is not a new concept, but I think over the years it was lost,” Hoffman said. “I don’t know why or when it was lost. I came on board a police department shortly after the Rodney King incident. At that time the powers that be thought what we’ll do with community policing is form small groups of officers who specialize in engaging with communities. It seemed like it worked. I was part of one of those squads.
“Then it occurred to me some time ago that community policing really wasn’t designed to be just a system where just a handful of officers practiced this. It should be a department-wide philosophy. But there’s also a community function in a partnership. It takes an entire neighborhood to keep a neighborhood safe — everybody looking out for everybody. That’s really what community policing is. Are we very good at it? I don’t think so. We haven’t quite mastered it.”
Brandt, a 23-year veteran with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, noted citizens of all races are hesitant to cooperate with police: “Part of community policing is officers work in a particular zone and that’s where they stay. The purpose is they get to know the community.
“There have been multiple instances throughout my career where I’ve gotten to know my community, not just the African-American community but the community in general, where I’ve gotten to know kids, mentor kids and get involved in their lives. Then when a problem arises on the street – a rash of burglaries or vandalism — and they’re there, but nobody wants to talk to the police. It starts at home for everybody. I’m not talking about just the African-American community but the whole community.”
Hoffman speculated that the shortfalls of community policing “could be a generational thing. I’m a little biased about the new generation coming into law enforcement. I don’t believe some of our younger officers and younger people in general have the communication skills that generations before us had. That’s problematic in law enforcement for sure. We’re striving to do better. Getting the community involved in this partnership also is a challenge.”
Matthews, the NCAAP president, recalled her own time as a police officer in New York and said “residency requirements” for officers “are key. Police officers in some places live in the suburbs and have very little interaction with minorities.”
As that comment drew an audible favorable response from attendees–in predominantly black south Bunnell, for example, police might as well be from out of state–Matthews continued: “The thing about this is fear is born of ignorance. If you have no interaction with anybody of another ethnicity, then you are never going to be able to understand them. You don’t have to walk in my shoes, but you have to understand when my feet hurt. Because it is exhausting being black. It is exhausting being Latino. It is exhausting having to have that talk. We’re the only race in the nation that has to have THE TALK with our male children,” Matthews concluded to fervent applause.
Some attendees expressed concern over a lack of African-American officers on police forces.
“If we do not see proper representation on the police force, if there is a disparity between the African-American community and representation we see on the police force, then there is going to be a problem with community policing,” Danita Blow said.
Hoffman said the percentage of African-American law enforcement officers “is consistent with the population of the county,” but he added, “Could it be better? Absolutely. I don’t know what the solution is honestly to that problem. It’s definitely not for a lack of trying on our part. As someone who is intricately involved in the recruiting process for the agency, I know there are not a lot of minority applicants. I don’t know why.”
Hoffman noted that at a recent police recruitment academy held at Daytona State College, there was only one African-American participant among 35 students.
Audience member Harold Burton, a former police officer who served in a “very racist” climate in Richmond, Va., in the 1960s, said, “A lot of this stuff were talking about starts at home. You want to know why you don’t get many minority children involved? I lay you a dollar to a doughnut that they don’t receive with open arms the inclusiveness police recruits should be getting regardless of what color they are. Let’s face it, in this area of the country, skin color matters,” he said to robust applause.
“If you’re waiting to go to the academy to get a minority person to become a law enforcement officer – way too late,” Burton continued. “Somebody needs to be in Buddy Taylor Middle School. You need to be sending uniformed police officers into the elementary schools, helping them to understand that police officers are good for 99.9 percent. What we are dealing with in the news is admittedly the one percent.”
Felton, the human resource specialist with the sheriff’s office, noted that the agency “actively recruits” at black colleges in Florida, and that programs are currently operating in Flagler County middle schools and high schools to introduce students to law enforcement.
One “success” for the sheriff’s office has been equipping FCSO officers with body cameras, Hoffman said: “Not only does it offer transparency to the public, but I believe it’s keeping honest cops honest. The body cameras provide that monitoring program to these officers on the street to ensure they are acting the way they are supposed to be.”
Brandt, the FCSO commander, responded to an audience member who asked “Who is policing the police?”
The Baton Rouge, La., Shooting
“I can’t speak for agencies across the country – I only know about here,” he said. “Locally I don’t know of any bad police officers and if I do I’m going to deal with it. I’m not getting those complaints. If it should happen by all means pick up the phone and call me. If I don’t know about it, I can’t deal with it. I’ll do the internal affairs investigation.”
The Rev. Sims Jones, who is running for Palm Coast City Council, referenced President Obama and the use of a robot-delivered bomb by police to kill the holed-up shooter in the Dallas incident.
“I’m afraid driving down the street,” Jones, who is black, said. “This country and its machinery built itself up in such a way as to always keep us down. If you don’t believe it, look what happened when we got our first black president, how the machinery turned on that black president. The bottom line is we aren’t being treated right. They are not going to treat us right.
“My heart goes out to the families of those police officers who got killed and hurt. But did you see the next step our government has moved to? They no longer are going to shoot us with guns – it’s ‘I’m going to protect my officers so I’m going to send in a bomb and blow you up.’ We have gotten to a place where we ain’t nothing but something to be exterminated. That’s the hard truth of the matter. We have to change the mindset of our government . . . we are the only race that the machinery of the United States is built to keep us down.”
Matthews, the NAACP president, responded to a woman “who asked why we concentrate on Black Lives Matter,” in Matthews’s words. “We concentrate on Black Lives Matter because throughout the course of history, all lives did not matter – our lives did not matter. I am not even a generation removed from the Civil Rights era. I remember being a child watching the riots and the dogs being set upon our people.
“Can you imagine the people raised in that era to accept this as the norm? Our children are the children of the dependent, of the despairing, the disillusioned, the disenfranchised. Jim Crow is not in a hood any more – he’s wearing judicial robes,” Matthews concluded to applause.
Danita Blow noted that “one of the things that’s come up consistently is that it starts at home. We spend too much time asking our children what they want to do and not enough telling them what they need to do. Our children are running the ship . . . they get what they want and they have no responsibility. Somebody’s going to have a problem with me in a moment, but the Bible declares that ‘Those I love, I chasten.’ God loves you and he chastens you. If you are not chastened by God then that means you are a bastard child. We cannot afford to have bastard children running around. Amen.”
David Blow, the Mt. Calvary youth minister, decried gangsta rap as slides of such hip-hop artists as Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg and others showed on a giant video screen.
He noted such music “celebrates” drugs, violence and “hyper-sexuality” and that “the bad thing is we are allowing our children to download this music. Many of us don’t even know what’s on our children’s iPads or the music they are listening to. These are some of our new slave masters. Look at the chains” – a reference to the exaggerated, massive chain necklaces being worn by many rappers on the video screen.
“I don’t blame Snoop Doggy Dogg or Dr. Dre,” David Blow continued. “I blame anybody who allows this mess into their iPad. There’s no way a child living in your house using your Internet should be able to say ‘You can’t see what’s on my device.’ ”
Blow referenced Kool Moe Dee, another rapper whom he called “a great prophet. He had a great line. He said, ‘I never ever ran from the Ku Klux Klan and I shouldn’t have to run from a black man.’ This culture of criminals within our community has to stop. We are a great people.”
Danita Blow urged the crowd to consider “our Jewish brothers and sisters. It does not matter how much their children get tired of seeing the Holocaust, but they see it. It does not matter how tired their children get of seeing ‘Schindler’s List,’ but they see it. It does not matter how much they get tired of recounting their history, but they recount it.
“When was the last time we recounted the history? When was the last time we talked about Medgar Evers? When is the last time we talked about the four Alabama girls? As we come here today, it’s a reminder that the police aren’t responsible for everything that’s going on in our community. We have to make a change.”
Hoffman, the chief deputy, said, “There’s a common theme to what everybody has said here tonight: working on the front end, whether it’s in the home, how we recruit law enforcement officers, how we train them. I think everybody realizes what needs to be done: It needs to start in the front end.”