As violence ensnared cities during protests over an unarmed black man’s death while he was being detained by police in Minneapolis last week, McComb officials appear to be considering placing more oversight on police officers.
Selectman Donovan Hill added two items pertaining to law enforcement to tonight’s city board agenda. Though he would not go into detail in a Monday interview, he said it would provide more accountability to police officers.
“Far too often, we see an officer break the law, but it is never reported, and they aren’t charged,” Hill said. “There are a lot of good cops out there, but until they start speaking up and doing what is right, they can be considered bad as well. No one should be above the law.”
Hill said he has watched the protests and said they were inevitable for the nation, considering how many police officers have gone without punishment in the cases of unarmed black men dying in custody.
“I think that we are seeing seeds of what America has planted from not charging the deaths of black citizens for so long,” he said, adding that to affect change, we needed to stop resisting it.”We have to stop being resistant to reality.”
Hill is not the only selectman following the protests.
“I am an activist at heart, so I’ve been eager to get out there and join, but I am in a different role,” Selectman Devante Johnson said. “I still can’t breathe as a black man in America.”
For those left uneasy from the protests, Johnson said that is the point.
“Our protests would be in vain if our protests were comfortable,” Johnson said, invoking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I must say that, ‘... a riot is the language of the unheard.’ “
Johnson said the country needs to change the way it handles policing. He said that while law enforcement deserves respect, officers must be held to a higher standard, and community policing is a solution.
Johnson also spoke about the recent hiring of McComb native Garland Ward, a state attorney general’s senior investigator, as police chief.
Ward is black and McComb is a majority-black city, and Johnson said he thinks that’s important.
“The police department should match the demographic of your city,” he said.
Johnson said the city has not had any protests for multiple reasons, adding that if someone has a problem they need to know they can talk to city officials about it.
“We haven’t had any officer-involved shootings, and I think that is contributing to it also,” he said. “McComb has good leadership right now, so if someone has issues, they know they can come, and there will be accountability.”
Pike County Sheriff James Brumfield said everyone has the right to protest, but once looting starts, people must be restrained.
“We should understand that people have a right to a peaceful protest. Once it goes over that line into rioting and looting, that is wrong,” he said. “I am all for a peaceful protest, but certainly not to the extent you are seeing in these larger cities.”
Brumfield said officers are taught specifically how to restrain people, and the restraint Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin used on Floyd, putting his knee on Floyd’s neck, was not a part of that training.
“When you are in a situation with someone that is fighting you, you want to protect that person and yourself,” he said. “Sitting there with your knee on someone’s neck is not taught, certainly not for eight or nine minutes.”
Brumfield said he does not believe a protest in McComb would happen, but he said he is confident that if it does, the protests would remain peaceful.
The sheriff said being in law enforcement is a noble profession, but he understands the frustrations some have with the job.
McComb Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said police violence should not be tolerated.
“We as citizens can voice our displeasure in the use of violence by police officers whether they are black or white. It should not be tolerated by any person,” he said.
Lockley implored people to put themselves in Floyd’s family’s shoes.
“I wish that people would have compassion for the family,” he said. “I say that because suppose it was your husband, brother or nephew that the police officer had a knee on his throat. He is crying out he can’t breathe and crying out for his mother. Try to think about how you would feel.”
Lockley also said he does not expect a protest or riot to develop in McComb, but he spoke with Ward and the city administrator to devise a plan in case it happens.
“I don’t think there will be a protest, but you never know,” he said.
Selectman Ronnie Brock said the protests are justified, but looting is not, adding that those who protest should make better choices in how to protest.
“This is eye-opening and reminds us that we are not as far as we should be,” he said. “Our job as elected officials in McComb is to make sure whatever sector we work in doesn’t have any bad actors.
“As an elected official, I am going to do all that I can to implement policy that roots out these bad apples.”