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Valley leaders: Let’s work together to build interracial respect

Protesters stand in downtown Columbus, Ohio, Thursday, May 28, 2020, during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd in police custody Monday in Minneapolis. Columbus police used pepper spray to disperse protesters after some threw plastic bottles of water, smoke bombs and other items at police. Windows at the Statehouse and in bus stations along High Street were shattered, trash cans were tossed and decorative planters wrecked. (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

Racial violence has the potential to happen anywhere, so divisive issues must be addressed proactively by taking the time to listen to and respect one another, some of the Valley’s black leaders said Friday.

Violence and vandalism happened in Minneapolis and spread to other places in other states, including Columbus, after the death of George Floyd, 46. Floyd died in police custody after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, 44, knelt on his neck to restrain him. The episode was caught on video.

“Today and every day since, I have grieved the gruesome death of George Floyd, who was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minn. on Memorial Day,” said Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown. “Mr. Floyd should be alive today. My heart goes out to the Floyd family who are grieving this senseless death.”

Brown continued: “I am working with Chief (Robin) Lees of the Youngstown Police Department and Guy Burney of the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence to make sure this never happens in Youngstown. In the coming days, I will be working with Chief Lees, Mr. Burney, local clergy and community leaders to have a discussion about the racial tensions that still exist in our country and how we can build a community where the killing of innocent African-American men and women isn’t the norm.”

Floyd had been arrested Monday after being accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a grocery store.

“I understand the pain, frustration and demand for justice that fuels these actions. I don’t condone the violence itself. The message gets lost often,” said Warren Mayor Doug Franklin.

“But I do understand there’s a need for protest and a need for voices to be heard … we want to see justice and accountability but the looting just distracts from the message of why they are protesting in the first place. I hope justice will be served,” he said.

Chauvin was arrested Friday and has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, according to the Associated Press.

“It took a riot to get him arrested,” Helen Rucker, Warren councilwoman-at-large, said of Chauvin’s arrest and the protests that turned violent.

“We will continue to fight hate and we will continue to fight racism. I feel bad for the people of Minneapolis. It’s sad. I hope they can find a way to rise above it.”

Rucker has been a longtime advocate for ending racial violence and has been pushing for the Warren Police Department to get body cameras — as they will help protect the officer as well as the citizen when cases like this happen.

Although those body cameras have been “put on the back burner,” she said she’ll continue to fight for them.

Rucker also hopes that the Warren police will recruit officers from within the community– so that they know the community and the community knows them. Rucker cites this as a way to lessen race as being the reason for violence.

“There’s a lack of trust. We don’t know them, and they don’t know us,” Rucker said. “We need to recruit from within our community and our schools. They should be of Warren and from Warren.”

Franklin has been working with police Chief Eric Merkel about respectful community policing and while he hopes this kind of violence doesn’t enter the Valley, he is making sure the officers are well-versed in the city’s use-of-force policy.

“I understand the frustrations and where the protests stem from — the denial of justice and lack of responsible constitutional policing and disregard for human life — but it’s important to not paint a broad brush on every police officer. And that’s evident as police officers are speaking out on social media against the actions (of ex-officer Chauvin),” said Franklin.

Both the Rev. Lewis Macklin of the Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Youngstown and Pastor Todd Johnson, at the Second Baptist Church in Warren, said injustice can happen anywhere. They both brought up the case of Matthew Burroughs, who died as a result of being shot by officers in a car outside of his Royal Mall apartment in Niles in January 2019. Police said it appeared Burroughs intended to strike an officer with the vehicle.

“This has the potential to happen anywhere. Police brutality is not foreign to this community,” said Macklin. He believes we need to take the time to listen to each other and understand what is going on so we can make the correct response.

“These are frustrating times,” he said.

Macklin did note that the protesters in Minneapolis, from what he’s seen, have been diverse. He is pleased to see that they aren’t just African American men.

As for the Burroughs case in Niles: “Many feel that he (Burroughs) was not a threat to the officers at all. So, we have been fighting all year long for the officers to be held accountable for their actions,” Johnson said on PBS News Hour after the Trumbull County prosecutor chose not to pursue charges against police. “I have always had a positive view of law enforcement. I was taught to respect police officers and judges. At the same time, I’m always cognizant that there are those who don’t always respect all people the same way.”

bshiller@tribtoday.com

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