On July 14, 2015, Pastor Larry Watson's Englewood Missionary Baptist Church hosted a community strategy meeting organized by Mr. Ellison Bennett, local president of the National Movement for Human and Civil Rights, which is headed nationally by northwest Florida's civil rights icon Reverend H.K. Matthews.
The purpose of the meeting was to bring together leading civil rights and community organizations, as well as concerned residents, to shift the process of talking about community problems to one of formulating an over-arching goal for the community at large, creating a strategy, and developing action plans to be implemented.
The participants from the community not only shared their stories and insights leading to a consensus on the overall goal--saving all of our children in Escambia County, be they Black, white, Asian, Latino--from all the predators and abusers, be they law enforcement officers, or killers and rapists residing in the community.
Speaker after speaker acknowledged and recognized that all our children are at risk: Black lives matter; white lives matter; Asian lives matter; Latino lives matter; all lives matter. But, the multi-faceted problems facing communities in Escambia County are not going to be solved by more meetings generating more words. These problems are not going to be solved by blaming parents, or blaming teachers, or blaming the police. The community leaders and active county residents want to move beyond rhetoric and blame, and towards identifying and implementing solutions.
We, collectively, need to get out of our homes, out of our churches, mosques, and synagogues, out of our secular civic organizations, and become active in following the policies that affect all our children; attending city, county, and school board meetings and workshops where polices detrimental to our children are formulated and approved; we must hold elected policy makers accountable through participation at workshops, meetings, and by registering and voting; and, we must hold judges accountable by monitoring the disparate effects their sentencing has on young Black people vis-a-vis other communities.
Proposed Action Items Recommended by Community Participants
- A series of inter-faith walks bringing together Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, other faiths, and the non-religious to knock on doors in troubled neighborhoods and begin establishing trust, dialogues, and assistance.
- Reclaim our children from teachers who abuse them by pejoratively labeling them as 'stupid' or 'losers' by opening our own schools, even if those community-based schools operated just on weekends.
- Since young people shun going to church and the mosque, the church and the mosque has to reach out to young people by going to where they are.
- A monthly donation of ONE DOLLAR from each African American residing in Escambia County would generate about $756,000 per year that could be used in a variety of ways to help children, for example, providing food for the families or paying legal expenses.
- A young teacher recommended starting this action plan by introducing yourself to your neighbors and begin the process of helping each other.
- SUSPENSE DATE: Community members having suggestions for more action items have until JULY 24, 2015, to send them to Mr. Ellison Bennett (see his Facebook page).
- Pastor Larry Watson, host, Englewood Missionary Baptist Church
- Mr. Ellison Bennett, organizer, National Movement for Human and Civil Rights
- Brother Tarus, Nation of Islam
- Mr. Jerry McIntosh, vice president, Movement for Change
- Pastor James Watson, chapter president, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
- Ms. Keyontay Humphries, organizer, American Civil Liberties Union
- Mr. Tony McCray II, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
- Chief (soon) David Alexander III, Pensacola Police Department
|L-R: Brother Tarus, Mr. McIntosh, Ms. Humphries|
|L-R: Ms. Humphries, Mr. McCray II, Mr. Bennett|
|L-R: Pastor Larry Watson, PPD Chief Alexander, Pastor James Watson|
- Mr. Lumon May, Escambia County Commissioner, third district
- Mr. Doug Baldwin Sr., Republican Candidate for County Sheriff
- Ms. Dianne Krumel, Escambia County Democratic Women's Club
- Reverend Hugh King, New Jerusalem Tabernacle of God
- Pastor Smiley, vice president, SCLC
- Mr. Joe Davis, vice president, Movement for Change
- Sheriff David Morgan, who declined a hand-delivered invitation on the grounds that he believed the Black community could not refrain from yelling at him and would lack self-control.
Brother Tarus, Nation of Islam, stated that police brutality, stemming from the historical development of police as slave patrols must stop; also, Black-on-Black crime must stop. As we frame issues to be addressed, we must be very careful how they are addressed lest we receive more unintended and unnecessary oppression, like more racially discriminatory laws under the rubric of the War on Drugs that saw Black men and women disproportionately sentenced to longer jail terms for crack cocaine than white defendants for powdered cocaine. Brother Tarus also stressed that we need to teach our children real Black history; that Black history does not begin with slavery, but with the much longer history of African civilizations having kings and queens; our children should learn about revolutionaries who brought about change, not because they should become revolutionaries, but because they should have positive role models for social change.
Mr. McIntosh, Movement for Change and also co-host of the 2nd and 4th Sunday Internet show "Our Voices," noted that the police in America have disrespected the Black community and that we must not forget that Black women are as brutalized and killed by the police as Black men. The Black community needs respect and we need unity amongst ourselves. Mr. McIntyre also observed that we pay law enforcement officers to protect us, not to kill us. We see police killing people, going on paid vacations, and returning to work unpunished. Police unions protect bad officers. Every community, he noted, Black, white, Asian, and Latino, "eats their own" with crime and violence.
Ms. Humphries, ACLU and co-host of "Our Voices," once again warned that we must be careful what we ask for. Too often we frame an issue that results in a disparate racial effect on Black men going to prison. While it is important to be concerned about and address large-scale issues like poverty, our focus must be directed towards policies and policy makers that can and do cause real damage to our children. We should focus on policies that we can change and policy makers that we can hold accountable. Moreover, the community itself needs unity and to hold ourselves accountable. We need to take the concern and energy displayed about the Confederate flag and redirect that energy to the more boring and mundane stuff of real politics--workshops and board meetings--where the real damage is done and where the community can affect real change.
Ms. Humphries also stressed that there are disparate racial effects from policies pursued by the Escambia County School Board and the Escambia County Sheriff's Office. There 256 students arrested in Escambia County--a number that puts the county first in the world. Of those arrested, 89 percent were Black. Of the 256 arrrests, 77 were for felonies, meaning that most of the arrests were for misdemeanors that should be corrected with age-relevant punishments--not jail sentences. She also noted that inattention to policies results in District 3 losing a public school while alternative schools--those who serve children who have suspended or expelled from the public schools--are growing.
She praised the leadership of the Pensacola Police Department for being the only law enforcement agency in the four-county area for providing a reason why they arrested a minor child and for moving forward on the use of body cameras. On both issues, Sheriff Morgan has not cooperated.
Mr. McCray II, NAACP, noted that we need more community-wide dialogue and that we must take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the new air of accountability in society. We need to address racial profiling.
Pastor Larry Watson stressed the "absolutely critical" importance of discussing issues affecting the community, but that such discussions needed to result in a commitment to formulate a strategy and plan of action.
Mr. Bennett observed that in the last few years, at least 39 Black people, including two women, had been killed in Escambia County. It was a lie that we do not care about Black-on-Black crime.
Chief Alexander observed that we must learn to live together as brothers, or we shall surely perish. An experienced police officer who, like Mr. Baldwin, rose through the ranks when racism was openly displayed by fellow officers, noted that community policing, introduced ten years ago, gives citizens an active participatory role in promoting safety, but it also generates resistance from citizenry and law enforcement because it requires change. Chief Alexander stated that communities that come together to reduce crime fare better than communities that do not come together. He was worried that "some worse days are still ahead" and it is urgent that we come together so that the community does not suffer.
Pastor James Watson, SCLC, was critical of the role local churches play or not play in the community. Pastors are eager to collect offerings on Sunday, but they fail to address community needs and they fail to move their congregants out of the churches and into the community where young men and women are in need. Pastor Watson urged ministers to join efforts to change the social and cultural environments of our communities; combat the tendency, also noted by teachers and parents in the audience, to label young people "stupid" and "losers;" he urged ministers to have personal conversations with young people; we cannot blame parents for everything that is wrong in the Black community. The pastor stressed the need for the community to come together as a whole, meaning not just as Black or white or Asian or Latino, but as a community.
Pastor Smiley, asked and challenged the audience, "Where is the answer of solution to keep these children out of trouble?" Pastors need to get of the churches and help the children. When pastors close the doors of the churches on Sunday afternoon, they need to take themselves and their congregants into the community where the young people are. Pastor Smiley also noted that white churches had to become involved in this process.
Mr. Doug Baldwin, noted that to bring justice to our community, we need a true dialogue. Mr. Baldwin observed that he shared the same agenda as Chief Alexander; that we have to be the law enforcement for the entire community, meaning not just Black and white, but for every community in Escambia County. But, we must change what we are doing as a community and come together as a people. In this sense, he asked the community to look beyond labels like "Democrat" and "Republican" and "Black" and "white" and look at real policies and real character.
Reverend Evelyn Forbes, head of the non-profit group The Extra Mile, revealed that we needed to develop community service options for children as young as 11- or 13-years old, so that they can do community service instead of going to jail. She noted that young people who commit crimes do not realize and know the effects their crimes have on people and the community at large. She also noted that her non-profit organization serves largely a clientele of white children. Ms. Humphries noted that this, too, indicated a racial disparity because the majority of minors in DJJ are Black, while the majority of minors sent to diversion programs are white. Again, this is a reason to monitor the judges and how they sentence young people.
Ms. Blackmon, a 74-year old veteran of life, stressed the need to look at our common goal--a better life for our children. All these children, she remarked, white, Black, are human beings, and we have to save our children, and leave a legacy for our children. In essence, she said, the children belong to all of us.
Ms. Monica Johnson emphasized that it "takes a community to raise a child." She noted that in the 1950s and 1960s it was the pastors and community adults that kept the children right.
An unidentified young teacher shared her first-hand experiences that the community needs to address the hierarchy of needs; even the parents of children in school need help paying their electric bills or putting food on the table.
Selected Photos Via Cindy Martin's Facebook Page: