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Local Response To Ferguson

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Last Thursday, over 300 people met in Springfield for a meeting titled “Saving Our Black Males Through Education, Information, and Communication." It was organized as a response to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri where an unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by a police officer. One common refrain was that blacks in Springfield often feel targeted by police simply because of their skin color. Local police chief Kenny Winslow told the crowd that better communication is needed.

"Part of our issue or what we need to do a better job of as a police department is engaging the community and strengthening those relationships. We do have some of them out there but we need more. For me it's all about effective communication, it's about understanding, it's about trust. And it's a 2-way street, the police department can't do it alone. When we talk about about police/community relations it has to work both ways,” said Winslow.  Many at the meeting said there needs to be a larger minority presence on the police force. Currently about 4% of city police are African American.

Dr. Jerome Reide, regional field director for the Springfield NAACP echoed the sentiment that a major issue facing the local black community is racial profiling. He says everyone is guilty of it, but sometimes it can lead to dire outcomes: “When you make assumptions and it’s coupled with power and authority people can end up dead,” said Reid, in reference to the deadly shootings of black youth like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. “A situation like that can occur anywhere ... It’s time for us to have open dialogue about what’s going on in our community," said Teresa Haley, president of the NAACP’s local branch.

Other themes of the evening included instilling respect and a better awareness of Black History in schools. Justin Rose, a member of the Black Male Collegiate Society, says the situation in Ferguson has left him in fear that he could be a victim of police brutality. “I had no choice but to be afraid. At any given moment, that could have been my life - I could have lost my life. I could lose my life if I leave this building and I don't act accordingly,” said Rose. A similar meeting it planned for November 13th.

Rachel Otwell of the Illinois Times is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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