'We must be united,’ social justice leader tells elected officials, community leaders, residents at town hall

A dozen elected officials and community leaders gathered Tuesday evening to take part in a town hall discussion centered around issues facing minority communities in Clark County.

Those who participated included Springfield government officials, a Clark County commissioner, the sheriff as well as representatives of faith-based organizations and the president of the Springfield unit of the NAACP.

Several local community organizations such as CitiLookout, a nonprofit counseling center, and Springfield Promise Neighborhood, which works with the local school system, also took part along with a representative of Clark State Community College.

ExploreCoronavirus: Clark County high virus occurence rate attributed to rise in cases at Wittenberg

The discussion took place in the parking lot of the Hollenbeck Bayley Creative Arts Center. It was organized and moderated by Springfield resident Lauren Kelley, who recently formed the group Leaders of Change.

Questions were submitted before the event and some were directed towards specific members of the panel. One asked what was being done from a law enforcement perspective to ensure that minorities feel protected and not targeted in the community.

Others questions focused on the newly formed community policing advisory teams as well as what resources are available to those who experience traumas related to racism, especially in the Black community.

Kelley said it is not only important to continue to have these types of conversations but also to hold local leaders and the community accountable in taking action.

“Talk is cheap. So we have to learn how to back it up,” she said.

Kelley added that it is important to hear from elected officials and other community leaders on where they stand. That gives residents a better sense of what is being done or what other types of actions are needed to address those issues.

That can could include ideas and training focused on fostering more respect between the community and local law enforcement. It could also mean looking at what factors are creating barriers in access to education or healthcare for residents.

Clark County Sheriff Deborah Burchett shared with residents what they should do if pulled over during a traffic stop. That includes remaining calm, following orders, staying in the car, putting your hands on the steering wheel and not reaching for you registration unless instructed to do so.

She also said that her deputies receive training related to bias.

Pastor Carl Ruby said that “white people by in-large have different experiences with law enforcement."

Local NAACP President Denise Williams said she wants to take time to meet with newer Springfield police officers and Clark County deputies and provide diversity education.

“There should be time where I can come in every six months or quarterly for that training. We do not have that now. But I am taking an action and getting that restarted,” Williams said.

She said that citizens need to be educated on how to properly react when stopped by law enforcement.

“I educate my son 24 hours a day. I text him all the time to remind him on what to say, what not to say, what to do and what not to do,” Williams added.

Clark County Commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt and Springfield City Manager Bryan Heck talked about the recently formed Clark County Law Enforcement Advisory Team and the Community Police Advisory Team for the city.

ExploreSchool report cards: Springfield’s graduation rate shows improvement

Springfield city elected officials also spoke about a need to do better in creating a more diverse work place as well as efforts and challenges related to recruiting minorities in the roles of city firefighters and police officers.

Representatives of the city said they struggled to to find more minorities to apply for those public safety jobs.

Springfield Assistant Mayor Joyce Chilton said the city has 12 Black and four Latino police officers and five Black firefighters.

The town hall lasted for more than an hour and a half and Kelley said the goal is to make these types of discussions a regular occurrence.

“No cause is ever won fighting fire with fire. We must be unified in order to move forward together. It begins with each and everyone of us never taking our eyes off of the goal,” she told the crowd at the beginning of the discussion.