Speakers at a rally in Summit on Saturday made a lot of suggestions for easing the tensions among the races and between blacks and law enforcement, saying the festering issues have never been dormant and have reached a boiling point in society.
Dubbed Standing in the Gap for Racial Equality, the event was organized by Summit police officer Antonette Quinn and Rep. Daryl Porter Jr., D-Summit, in response to high-profile killings of blacks, at times at the hands of police, and the unsettled issue of racism.
Donovan Craig, who emceed the event, opened the forum by thanking its organizers, and noted Porter was absent while he was voting to change the Confederate-themed state flag at the Capitol.
“We’re working on getting this state flag down, getting it removed and getting it changed,” he said to applause.
Quinn said she struggles with internal conflicts that come from being a black woman police officer.
“It’s been heavy on our hearts in the law enforcement community and the community as a whole,” she said. “As human beings, let’s fix the problem. Let’s see what we can do so that the community can trust law enforcement a little bit more.”
She wanted to assure residents of all colors that her uniform and oath to wear it means she will be there when needed.
“If you need me and you dial 911 and it’s my jurisdiction, I’m on the way,” she said.
McComb Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said he has asked the city attorney to draft a policy banning police chokeholds and is working to outfit officers with body cameras. Lockley said the city also hopes to join a database with other law enforcement agencies to share information on officers who have been fired for misconduct, and to have officers undergo anti-bias training.
But he also noted that witnesses to crime rarely tell police what they know, and that must change.
“When it comes to crime, it is you, the community, that helps them solve crimes,” he said. “It’s time out for you to see and don’t say. You can help the police department solve crime. … Understand that we are our brother’s keeper.”
Pike County Supervisor Tazwell Bowsky echoed that sentiment.
“If you see something, say something,” he said. “Suppose someone in your community got killed and you saw something and didn’t say something. Now suppose someone in your family got killed. Would you want somebody to say something?”
His comments came as a family got ready to bury a young black man who was killed not far from where Bowsky lives and works — the second gun-related death in the area in less than a month.
“Our community is suffering right now,” he said.
Jamie Campbell added her own personal experience as a victim of violence, recalling the kidnapping and murder of her brother Spencer Campbell — a crime in which witnesses refused to come forward.
Conversely, Campbell said she once saw someone breaking into her neighbor’s house and confronted them.
“I have told a lot to the police here in Summit and they didn’t say my name,” she said.
Newly hired McComb Police Chief Garland Ward said, “I’ve arrested so many people who look like me.” With his current position, one of his goals is to “reach the youth and show them that the police are not bad.”
As Summit Mayor Percy Robinson took the microphone, he grabbed Craig by the arm and pinched him.
“Did that hurt?” he asked, noting that if Craig were to pinch him, it would hurt him, too. “That means we are both human beings.
“When I gun down one of your children and you gun down one of mine, you hurt and I hurt,” he said. “We all have feelings. We’re all human beings and when you realize that then we can bridge the gap.”
Tomeka Luckett, a nurse, compared the healing society is going through to the biological process of mending wounds. She said the first phase of healing is inflammation — “it looks ugly,” she said. Then comes proliferation — “the wound begins to rebuild, the tissue starts to connect, and that’s what you’re seeing today.” Finally is maturation. “Even after it’s healed, you still have to do more.”
Cartrell Jackson of Empowerment Breakthrough Ministries called for more understanding and love.
“We need to love our neighbor, we need to have a heart and compassion,” he said. “If we will just agree to not be racist, to not have hate in our hearts.”
Demarious Johnson said the distrust and skepticism that fosters racism, as well as attitudes between the Black community and police, must end.
“What we have to realize in the community is all police aren’t bad, all blacks aren’t bad and all white people aren’t racist,” he said.
Joseph Mingo, a McComb native who moved away 20 years ago, worked as a social worker and returned in 2016, said talking about reconciliation is one thing, but taking action is another.
“It’s easy to understand that words can be misinterpreted but actions cannot,” he said. “If we do not place actions on those words, they are rendered meaningless.”
Porter’s mother, Emma Porter, read a message from her son, who she said was “still fighting for everyone of you” as he voted in favor of changing the state flag, then chimed in with a message of her own.
“Until your move that hatred and doubt from our hearts, we are not going to accomplish anything,” she said.
Summit Councilman Joe Lewis recalled his social activism when he was in high school as one of the students who participated in the Burglund walkout, staged in response to the arrests of classmates who participated in sit-ins.
“During that time, we didn’t have black mayors. During that time we didn’t have black police chiefs,” he said, adding that while some progress has been made, the momentum must not stop.
Craig closed the event by asking people to reconsider some of their world views.
“If we still have police officers who look at me and think I’m a thug on the street and see the chief of police when he’s not in uniform and think he’s a big black man, then we haven’t accomplished anything,” he said.
Citing common sayings in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, Craig said blue lives matter, too, so does all life, but Black lives are most affected by systemic racism, and they’re disproportionately dying at the hands of police and vigilantes, often for either minor crimes or none at all.
“Those are the things that black people have to go through every day,” he said.