Friday, October 31, 2014

A chance to create better understanding

Participants joined in prayer Friday as they ended their discussion. Perhaps they can pray again when they open their next meeting — to build on the vision shared by Curry and Ballard.

Posted on July 20, 2014 at 8:20 a.m.

Two weeks ago, residents lined the sidewalks and shouted angrily at police after a confrontation on West Garfield Avenue.

People from that same neighborhood joined hands with police Friday night to pray for better understanding.

EPD officers and south Elkhart residents need to continue talking, because now there’s a real chance they can learn to trust one another.

The conversations started Tuesday at the Historic Roosevelt Center. A group called Elkhart Community Roundtable started planning a meeting weeks ago, but it took on new urgency over the long Fourth of July weekend.

Cpl. Dustin Young ordered 21-year-old Reese Haithcox out of the street July 3 in the 100 block of West Garfield. Neighbors and police disagree about what happened next, but Haithcox tackled Young and punched him more than a dozen times, breaking a bone in Young’s face.

Young kicked him off and Haithcox ran. Police tased him twice to subdue him.

As they walked him to a patrol car, a bystander began shooting video of the arrest on a cellphone. A police officer screamed obscenities at him and pushed him across the street, angering the crowd.

Neighbors said police harassed them for the rest of the weekend, cursing at them and writing tickets for infractions such as riding a bicycle without a bell. Police denied they singled out West Garfield Avenue for punishment.

Tuesday’s meeting came at exactly the right time.

Several people shared stories about times they’d been harassed or racially profiled by police. Some suggested diversity training for the EPD.

Others, though, urged neighbors to address a more fundamental issue — personal responsibility.

“If your child is selling drugs, go get them; if your daughter is prostituting, go get them. Don’t wait for somebody downtown to come here and say they love us because they don’t,” Antonio Ballard said as the crowd applauded.

When the Elkhart Ministerial Alliance brought police, city officials and the public together for a second meeting Friday night at Agape Missionary Baptist Church, people barely mentioned the July 3 fight. Instead, residents shared stories of harassment and listened as police officers said they enforce the laws uniformly.

City councilman Brent Curry offered a way to break through the mistrust. Curry, whose 5th District includes much of south Elkhart, urged residents to “step out of their comfort zones” by creating a neighborhood association and inviting police to become part of it.

In turn, Curry’s idea can help achieve Ballard’s hopes for south Elkhart — because in an active neighborhood association, parents take responsibility for the behavior of their children, and the police, as respectful and respected partners in a community, help people address issues before they result in jail time or violence.

Or both.

Participants joined in prayer Friday as they ended their discussion. Perhaps they can pray again when they open their next meeting — to build on the vision shared by Curry and Ballard.

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