The forum was organized in the wake of several nationally publicized shootings over the course of the last few months either involving shootings of civilians by police officers or the killing of law enforcement officers.
Panelists touched on issues of communication, trust and fear while members of the audience quizzed law enforcement on a range of issues from procedural to racial.
“We’ve buried the majority of the people who died from violent deaths on the East Coast,” said Hubert Pope, a funeral director and one of the organizers of the forum, which was held today at the Roanoke Rapids Theatre.
The law enforcement officers, all heads of their departments, all discussed their open door policies, crisis intervention training and the diversity training their officers go through.
“We’re here to come to an understanding, to understand our roles,” Northampton County Sheriff Jack Smith said. “We still have a long way to go. If it’s something we can do, we will certainly return your calls.”
“It’s got to be a two-way street,” Roanoke Rapids police Chief Chuck Hasty said. “There has got to be calm communication.”
Asked by McCollum how the nation overall heals and unifies from the tragedies, Hasty said there needs to be de-escalation. “If an officer tells you to do something. Stay calm. Don’t try to resist.”
Halifax County Sheriff Wes Tripp said all facts should be gathered first. Referring to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, he said, “We do not police ourselves. We need to allow the process to go through.”
McCollum’s church has programs designed to teach children what what to do should they be stopped or questioned by police.
Terry Buffaloe, one of the audience members, said law enforcement is not the problem. “You guys have been doing an excellent job.”
The problem, he said, is in unemployment, poverty and illiteracy and policies set by board of commissioners who haven’t got onboard with equitable tax distribution.
Tripp said jobs are key. “A lot of money has been spent on economic development, but I haven’t seen shovels turn. If we could get people back to work crime will reduce.”
One woman told the panel, “Family is where it all begins. You’ve got to know the law enforcement officers. Speak to them. That reduces your fear. We can do that in a small community like Halifax.”
James Mills, a panelist, told the audience, people have to speak what’s in their hearts. He said, however, he believes many officers don’t receive proper training or proper pay. “When people say black lives matter, that doesn’t really mean anyone else’s don’t. This is just not the venting of hot air.”
Fielding a question from the audience on how to move forward, Weldon police Chief Mark Macon said, “We have to give everyone a voice. Law enforcement needs to understand we need to hear from our citizens.”
In its fair and impartial policing classes, Hasty said, officers learn they all have biases. “We learn we’ve got to leave those biases behind us. If we treat a person with dignity and respect, it’s going to go a long way.”
The sheriff’s office has juvenile minority sensitivity training, Tripp said, and wants to hear from the public any accusations of racism by his officers. “We want them to inform us of an officer with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office being racist. I won’t put up with that.”
David Harvey, president of the Halifax County Chapter of the NAACP, also said the problem is not policing. “We’ve had no major issues on stops and shootings.”
The big issue is county commissioners “who refuse to have children educated together. Let’s see the children come together.”
Tony Gupton told the panel, “I think the system has thrown you under the bus. There’s good officers, there’s bad officers.”
He said, however, there is also spare the rod and spoil the child. “The main thing we’ve got to do is go back to discipline. If there’s no consequences then system has failed the police department.”