Deeply concerned over recent police shootings in Tulsa, OK and Charlotte, N.C., area youth had a conversation with community leaders at the Jackson Teen Center September 28.
Over 50 students and a handful of adults were in attendance in JTC’s auditorium. The students prepared a list of questions to ask community leaders in a forty-five minute discussion called “Make it a Conversation”.
The panel of community leaders included Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews, Grants Manager for Kershaw County School District Kevin Rhodes, Camden Police Department Sergeant Sylvesta Robinson, Alpha Center Executive Director Paul Napper, Camden Mayor Tony Scully, Camden City Councilwomen Alfred Mae Drakeford and Laurie Parks and KCSD Executive Director for K-12 Instruction Tim Hopkins.
Some questions teens posed included the following:
Why won’t the good cops standup for the injustice in our country?
When is it lawful for an officer to shoot anybody?
How do we handle a situation with an officer with a bad attitude?
Sheriff Matthews and Sergeant Robinson reiterated that there are good cops and bad cops.
“Let the facts come out first,” Matthews said. “Find and look at the evidence before any conclusions are drawn.”
“I can’t speak for every officer out there,” Robinson said. “A lot of officers cannot speak out too much because of their jobs. I came out here as a good cop to ensure I help those in the community.”
Drakeford and Scully said a forum like “Make it a Conversation” is an important first step to help ensure what is going on nationally does not happen in Kershaw County.
As to when it is lawful for an officer to shoot anybody, Matthews said that if a person is completely and immediately threatening or endangering anyone else, an officer can lawfully shoot. For example, if he was trying to arrest someone who was armed and they ran and were an immediate, deadly threat to someone else, he could shoot to prevent them from causing great bodily harm to someone else, Matthews said. In some cases, an unarmed person can pose a deadly threat to an officer. For example, if an officer tries to arrest a subject who quickly overpowers and tries to beat that officer senseless, the officer can shoot that subject because the officer reasonably fears for his or her life, Matthews said.
Sophomores Katelyn Stevens and Dwight Coleman talked about their initial thoughts before the forum.
“I feel like everything going on in America isn’t fair. Officers didn’t use force on Emanuel 9 shooter in Charleston, Dylan Roof, but if he were black, officers would have used force on him,” Coleman said.
Stevens added, “Guns shouldn’t be the first thing officers pull- maybe their taser or baton.”
In regard to handling a situation with an officer with a bad attitude, there were different answers given. Matthews provided the following tips: (1) Do whatever the officer says; (2) be respectful; (3)if it is nighttime, turn on the interior light in the car; (4) do not immediately reach for your license (it may frighten the officer); and (5) keep your hands on the steering wheel.
“If the officer is rude or unfair, the street is not the place to deal with it,” Matthews said. “You comply with the officer; bring up the situation when the situation is over. As parents, we want our kids to come home at night. When you comply, you reduce the chance of getting shot.”
The answer Robinson provided had the teens mumbling in disagreement and looking at each other in confusion.
“Be professional… If you have an attitude with an officer, it will dictate what attitude you get from the officer,” Robinson said.
The teens asked another question, “Where should we put our hands when we are pulled over?”
Robinson said on the steering wheel, but he added that social media has depicted officers in a bad light in recent incidents in regard to the steering wheel.
He said people are recording tragic events like the ones in Tulsa and Charlotte, where individuals getting pulled over are following directions, but still get shot. In events like those, videos by outsiders only show one side of the story, not several sides of the story, Robinson said.
For example, he said when the incident in Charlotte first happened; social media made it seem as if the gentleman shot, Keith Lamont Scott, had a book, not a gun. A bookwas never found on the scene, but a gun was. The point is, social media only gets one side of the story, he said.
Matthews and Robinson said get all sides of the story first.
Matthews gave an example on where people should put their hands when they are pulled over. He said he was on I-20 one day when a black gentleman in an SUV was speeding- going 90 miles per hour. He pulled the man over and asked, “Do you know why I stopped you?” Matthews said the man’s hand was on the steering wheel, but the man said his registration was in the glove department. He also admitted that his handgun was there as well. Matthews told the gentleman not to touch the gun, but grabbed the registration. As Matthews watched the man open the glove department, he realized the man would have to touch the handgun to grab the registration. Matthews told the man he would grab the registration instead. Matthews did, and he then noticed the man had a woman and two children in the back of the car. The man said, “I also have a handgun on the side pouch of the door.” Matthews calmly said, “Just don’t touch it.” Matthews said the man was so polite and courteous; and in deference to the women and children in the car-he gave the man a warning ticket because he did what he was supposed to do.
Katelyn Stevens related a comment she saw on Facebook and wanted to know the panel’s response to it. The comment was, “We forgive them for shooting in and burning our churches, but they will not forgive our kids for reacting to an environment they created”.
“We need to stop saying, ‘they’ or ‘them’ and start saying ‘us’,” Napper said. “When we get to that point we’ll make progress.”
Hopkins added, “The generational divide stops us from making progress. When you’re pulled over, that’s not the time to fight the situation. Wait and think about it.”
Students Coleman and Stevens commented about how they felt after the forum. They said they both wished it was longer because they believed more questions could have been presented to the panel.
“I felt better,” Coleman said. “I know the leaders here care and social media should not affect your thoughts.”
“My question was not answered in its entirety,” Stevens said. “We know color is still the issue.”
Brian Mayes, director over the Teen Jackson Center, said he plans to host another “Make it a Conversation”.