Greenville residents see little change in interactions with police
Last summer, people filled the streets of downtown Greenville in memory of George Floyd and called for changes in the way Greenville and United States police interact with people of color.
A year later, residents of Greenville’s black communities are wary of the way the police patrol their neighborhoods and want to see more officers who look like them patrolling the city streets.
Greenville is 23% black. Yet only 13% of the city’s police officers are people of color. This only includes a minority among the ministry’s command staff following the recent retirement of Captain Greg Smith.
A collection of voices calling for change
Keyisha Smith, who lives in the community of Pleasant Valley, said there need to be more black officers not only in the community, but also from the community they serve.
“So,” she said, “you can relate to your people a bit.”
The call for patrols of people who look like the people they serve comes at a time when police departments around the world, not just in Greenville, are struggling to attract officers of color.
Police Chief Howie Thompson has acknowledged the lack of diversity in the department and is asking the community to help them find agents of color.
Police Department recruiter Sgt. Michelle Lentz said the department is working with minority agents to help find other agents of color.
Shelagh Dorn, a criminal justice professor at Clemson, said her minority students told her they were reluctant to seek law enforcement jobs due to the potential danger and conflict in the job. .
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However, one solution, Dorn said, would be to allow those who want to become police officers to have their student loans canceled if they are police officers for at least five years.
âIt would attract a large number of candidates and minority candidates. It could improve communities by getting candidates who don’t have the income or college education to serve their communities, âshe said.
In that solution, Dorn said if people of color served five years as a patrol officer, it would do wonders for all departments of the state by giving communities officers who represent who they serve.
Residents are also concerned about the tactics the police use, from the use of force to the way they patrol.
âThey have the power on their side. We are concerned about this, âsaid Angela Kinard, a resident of Southernside.
She, like Kinnard and Kenneth Baxter, a Pleasant Valley resident, believe relationships need to develop for police services to improve in their communities.
Once people get to know each other, they learn that other people who aren’t like them aren’t as different from them as they seem, Baxter said.
“If we talk to each other, we’ll find that everyone wants pretty much the same thing – a nice neighborhood, a nice family, a decent place to live, wants their money to go as far as everyone else,” he said. -he declares. âNobody wants everything to be free. They just want a level playing field and people to be treated the same. It’s all that everyone wants. I would say, all nationalities.
The idea of ââcommunity policing is not new.
Recently a group of retired Greenville law enforcement officers gathered at a forum to talk about how to build a bridge between the black community and the local police.
Retired Detective Rodney Neely said when he was with the Greenville Police Department officers were assigned to different communities.
âI was a community patrol officer in West Greenville and developed relationships with good and bad people,â said Neely. âWe need to start building those relationships with the agents and the community again. ”
Williamston Police Chief Tony Taylor said it was important that not only community patrol officers know their neighborhood, but all officers. He said they should all get to know each other, not just when it’s time to make arrests.
Baxter, a US Army veteran, has said since the George Floyd murder that he was driving with a laminated sheet of a page of his driver’s registration and insurance information on his visor so that he can keep his hands in sight if he were to be arrested by the police. His wife and son do the same.
âI did it after Floyd,â Baxter said. âTrayvon Martin’s death hit me pretty hard too, but something about Floyd touched me, touched my heart.
âIt scared me seeing this man with his knee on his (Floyd’s) neck,â he said. â(The policeman) didn’t think about being taped, that people were watching. (It was) like another day at the office. It made me start to do things differently.
Residents in some neighborhoods in the Greenville area were hopeful that Floyd’s death would lead to changes in local law enforcement.
Diane Keller, who is black, has lived in the West End her entire life. At one point she said the community was predominantly black, but now that has changed. While she enjoys living in the generally peaceful neighborhood, she wonders why she doesn’t see more officers who look like her.
In Nicholtown, resident Erskine McKinney, 21, said there was general distrust of the police in his neighborhood. However, since Floyd’s murder, he said he noticed less police presence and more leniency. But there is still some way to go, he said.
McKinney works with Cameron Hill at Eleos, a ministry in Nicholtown that works with children in athletic and after-school programs.
Hill said community policing in Nicholtown needs to be improved and more officers of color will help. The population of Nicholtown is 68% black, according to the census.
âA student who may have graduated from our program, moved out of the neighborhood, then will come back to visit me, he will just come to my house and comment very frequently on the police presence in Nicholtown,â Hill said. “So a lot of people won’t even really want to come back to the neighborhood just because of the police for fear of being arrested.”
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