By Alexander Speid,
In the year 2020, the world has gone through turbulent times of pandemics and uncertainty. However, no problem is as important to tackle as police brutality in urban areas. There is so much miscommunication that circulates in the media, that it is hard to determine what is a concrete statement to follow.
At small gathering at the home of Wayne and Pamela Beasley-Pitman in the Sistrunk area of Fort Lauderdale, an important discussion took place between the people and members of the Fort Lauderdale police department in the back drop of a Hotdog, and hamburger cookout.
Upon arrival, I was met with people and police officers alike. Given what the media has portrayed of most people wearing the badge nowadays, it was difficult to feel at ease in their presence. However, as the event proceeded, my opinions and strong thoughts had begun to waver.
The cookout began with an introduction by Sharron Hughes, who helped setup the event. She spoke about the youth, and how they have become fearful of authorities. I as looked around, I could see a number of youth below the ages of eighteen who displayed some manner of reserve around the officers and given what has been seen across the media, it was to be expected. Yet,
Sharron believes it would be in their best interest to have a sit-down conversation about some of their grievances. “We all have a story to tell, and we all mingle together” she said. “We have to know our past, in order to go forward into our future.”
Homeowner, Pamela Beasley-Pitman who has some knowledge of the Sistrunk District, explained some of the history of the neighborhood. My knowledge of the history of the area was that Sistrunk was named after—Doctor Sistrunk, who birthed over 500 babies from the community, including other African American doctors. I was surprised once we were informed of just how many first African American teachers, lawyers, and doctors the neighborhood had produced. Pamela Beasley-Pitman’s goal is to re-introduce the community to its own history, as well as for the minority youth what to do when dealing with police officers.
One of the host of the event, Jerimiah Carter, also a resident of the 33311 zip code and a proud graduate of Boyd H. Anderson High School, Broward College, and Florida A&M University(FAMU). Carter is employed at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and he also does government relations and crisis work to support people to reach their potential.
Carter’s role today was the MC for as he introduced the invited speakers.
The first was Renee Peterson, a captain of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, and part of the neighborhood support team. Born in Miami at Jackson Memorial Hospital. She moved to Broward in 2002 . She started in the detention system, and decided to move to the support system to investigate gangs, narcotics, and things like, she also teaches police cadets at Broward College against terrorism.
Next to address the crowd was Dr. Gregory Salters, a Major with Fort Lauderdale Police Department. Major Salters noted how important it was to be looked at as a Black man in the community, rather than just an officer. Salters has achieved in education as well as in the department. He has a Doctor of Education, Adult Education and Human Resource Development from Florida International University a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Florida Atlantic University and his foundation is from his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Florida A & M University.
Major Salters began his career in policing when a fraternity brother convinced him to consider joining law enforcement, because he wanted to make a difference in the community. He worked in road patrol, taught D.A.R.E at elementary schools like Walker, Thurgood, and Dillard along with others. He’s worked every area of police, and is currently in operations support division.
Joining in the conversation was Kevin Greenville, a Major with Broward Sheriff’s Office and oversee the Community Service Unit. Major Grandville graduated from Bethune-Cookmen University, his 29th year with BSO began with his first college intern and now he can retire in three years.
The first question to the speakers was from an anonymous entry: How could I not be afraid of the police?
Captain Peterson started her answered with a story of how she was pulled over by police and felt she needed to behave in the presence of the officer, despite she, herself, being an officer. She stresses that it’s best to be educated of your own rights, but also be knowledgeable of the procedures needed to be done when stopped.
“I think when you interact with those folks whom you don’t understand or you don’t know, it humanizes them. And if it’s a positive interaction, it’ll make your next interaction less fearful which, is why coming together like this is important.”
Major Salters added his ‘two-cents’ on the other side of the coin. He mentioned how even cops don’t always know what the person being stopped has in the car and what they’re capable of. “Naturally both parties want to go home safe, but if one party doesn’t comply, it creates strife. It is always important for both sides to be professional and understand how to approach each other.”
He also stresses dialogue between people and officers. “On one side, we may see how bad cops are, but on their side, all they see is cops doing good. Social media can blur the issue, and it is better to have a conversation to discuss what’s happening. It is a benefit to know someone in the department, so that if you get pulled over, you can introduce your knowledge of higher ups to bring down the tension.”
City of Fort Lauderdale Chief of Police, Rick Maglione, spoke on the importance of trust in the police department. He addressed the process of firing a police officer for doing something wrong, siting that there are no immediate actions until things are sorted out and how the process is different from other states in the country.
“I can speak for my entire department, we are all against any form of abuse of power, police brutality, and we all agreed that George Floyd would be alive right now if there wasn’t a police officer sitting on his neck.”
He spoke briefly on the protest in downtown Fort Lauderdale on the 31st of May. He believed that there was good in the protest about getting the message out on the injustices Black people face. He is concerned that the officer who started the chaos was in the wrong and the conversation has begun to circulate within the department to do better.
“Our whole mission is to build relationships. We’re here to make you safe, and strengthen our relationships.”
The second question: Why does it seem like police officers have no accountability?
Major Salters addresses how accountability isn’t well-shared throughout the internal agency. “It is important to let your department know the problems with the community you live in. There is accountability that’s needed to be shared between the community and the police department.”
Gregory also speaks on the bad cops that slip through the cracks. “Bad cops know the good cops. They know who they can do things around. So, if you’re a cop who is not really upholding the badge and the shield, you’re not going to do something around the officers that are because, you know they will not tolerate that. So, you’re gonna do your stuff to the side where maybe only the community will see you, and you’re hoping that the community won’t tell anybody.”
Major Salters instructs people to send their questions and positive or negative quotes to the City Managers, who will send them to the designated person of interest. He encourages people to go to internal affairs for complaints on bad cops and how communications can remedy the lack of accountability.
Captain Peterson also weighs in on accountability from a story of her time as rookie, where two fourteen-year-olds were about to be arrested for taking bread from the crates behind Publix. Disagreeing with the situation and preferring to see past their age and think of their future, she said something to her sergeant, and the boys were let go. She talks about the way cops, not just Black but White and Hispanics, would go above and beyond for people in the African American community. She also talked about holding the public accountable to be a voice for their own community. To make sure they vote and hold their representatives accountable to them.
One of the strongest points she spoke on regarded the George Floyd case.
Captain Peterson said, “had one of the officer trainees decided to shove his sergeant off of Floyd, not only would it have possibly made big news but, the consequences towards that trainee would’ve been severe for disobeying a higher up, in the name of moral grounds. And all because no one in the community stood up for them. Again, accountability is key.”
“People say ‘where are the good cops’ and there have been many cases where they have been fired for doing the right thing, and no one stood up for them.”
Johnathan Lewis, a freshman who is majoring in Business Administration with a concentration in finance, presented his own question. He asked: “should an officer expect an award for doing their job, or should they do good for the sake of the community?”
Major Salters clarifies, “the department and law enforcement should do their jobs with no expectations of any reward from it but, a ‘thank you’ would be appreciated. There’s good being done but, they don’t put it out onto social media every time they do so. For the sake of passing knowledge between the community and the police department, its important to have dialogue to better both sides.”
Chief Maglione added to the discussion on how his department and other agencies are now calling out the officers who don’t uphold the law. They are required to intervene if they see another officer doing something improper. “Now that we’ve committed it to writing, it sends a message.”
S.G. Wesley, aka ‘Chico The Virgo’ of radio station HOT105FM, who is well entrenched in the communities and has his hand on the plus of the community ,wanted to let everyone know his appreciation for the event. As he encouraged the youth to use their full potential. “You can be whatever you want to be, regardless of the current climate of violence and protests. As long as you know where you come, even if you’re from the 33311, you can be whatever you want to be!”
The discussion ended with the home owner of the event, Ms. Esther Baylor, the 53-year resident of the Dorsey Riverbend area. She was also the First African American teacher at South Broward High School and helped integrate Boyd H. Anderson High School. I can recalled days of desegregation and how strong the need was to have a voice to speak out against injustice. We need communication now between officers and the community.”
Upon leaving the cookout, hotdogs in hand, I came to the realization of just how things can be misconstrued in the media towards what we think we know. Of course, I still have my own opinions on the situations taking place across the country in regards to police brutality but, it is insightful to be informed of the different perspectives.