ELKHART — If the goal was to start a discussion, organizers knew even before Tuesday’s meeting began that they had succeeded.
More than 100 people filed into the old school gym at the Historic Roosevelt Center Tuesday, July 15, to air numerous concerns.
Organizers of the meeting who operate under the name of Elkhart Community Roundtable, had planned to host the meeting for months, but recent incidents including accusations of police harassment a block away from Roosevelt provided added weight and immediacy to the meeting.
Seven panelists fielded a list of questions, but much of the most animated and passionate comments came from audience members.
Most of the passion from the speakers came when addressing whether the community has a distrust for police.
Several people told stories of being harassed and racially profiled.
Panelist Rodney Dale said trust is a two-way street. Police need to be as tough on internal police problems as they are in attacking crime, he said.
Residents need to take a stand against drug dealers in their neighborhoods, Dale said.
“Stop taking up for people that don’t deserve it to be taken up for and I believe the trust will be re-established,” Dale said.
Numerous people complained about racial profiling and harassment, but there were also moments of introspection and several people focused on the need to instill discipline in children and the importance of respect.
One of those was Antonio Ballard who urged the community to take responsibility for their families.
“This is our responsibility,” Ballard said.
“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,” Ballard said.
“If we don’t love us, how can we expect them to do it,” Ballard said amid hoots and applause.
Other topics were the recent raids on convenience stores over allegations of selling synthetic marijuana and the role of education and the impact it can have on crime.
One woman thanked Elkhart County prosecutor Curtis Hill for taking a strong approach in the convenience store arrests and another said she hopes owners convicted of selling the drugs are never allowed to operate businesses again in the city.
Gary Johnson suggested the $2.2 million confiscated from one of the owners of stores alleged to have been selling fake pot should be reinvested in the community.
“I challenge the powers to be to get that $2 million back … let’s take that money and put it toward something positive,” Johnson said.
Some called for more diversity training for police and an increase in the number of black officers in the department.
Among those attending were seven city council members and mayor Dick Moore, none of whom addressed the crowd.