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Friday, 26 February 2021

WAAY 31 Town Hall: A Community Conversation

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WAAY 31 Town Hall: A Community Conversation
WAAY 31 Town Hall: A Community Conversation
WAAY 31 Town Hall: A Community Conversation

Holding a community conversation that starts right now.

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You're watching waay 31 news.

A community conversation.

(chanting) take it down, take it down.

>> reporter: peaceful protests with messages of hope and a better future.

Turned to tear gas and dozens of arrests in the streets of downtown huntsville.

Tonight a community conversation focused on north alabama's future.

Our town hall tonight is made up of six guests from law enforcement, city government, religious organizations and community activists.

We have jerry burnett from the huntsville madison county naacp, kenny anderson, the multi-cultural affairs officer for the city of huntsville.

Lauderdale county sheriff rick singleton.

Mitchell walker with the greater huntsville interdenominational fellowship and eric burke from shalom and bruce jones who worked with at-risk youth for more than two decades.

Thank you all so much very for being with us for this important conversation tonight.

>> we really appreciate you being here.

Jerry burnett.

We'll start with you.

Set the table for us.

Your association organized a number of protests.

What is the message that you hope to get out there with these demonstrations?

>> oh, the message we hope to get out is that if you want change and you want real change, keep calm, relax, register and vote, make sure you put politicians in office who will change policies that will benefit you and what you are trying to accomplish and with that, we can -- if we want to see real change we have to change policy.

When we change policies, we can see a change coming.

>> najahe: this question is for kenny anderson.

The multi-cultural affairs officer for the city of huntsville.

Do you think the protests will lead to agtual change and what conversations you had with city leaders at this point?

>> sure.

That's my desire.

I think that protests without purpose is futile and i know that right now this is an important time for people to be given an opportunity to express themselves and talk about how they feel and also to exercise their first amendment rights to free speech.

At this time i think that it's important for people to gather peacefully and be able to express themselves in positive productive ways that can also gain the attention as well as the engagement of city leaders which i think is the goal of much of what we're seeing right now, and of course i would hope that at the end of the process that we see systems begin to change because people are engaged.

People are strategic.

People are intentional and moving just beyond the protest, processes of advocacy as well as activism.

>> dan: lauderdale county sheriff rick singleton is also with us.

Thank you for being here.

Obviously you have a duty to protect lawful protests but when does it cross the line?

What do protesters need to understand about this?

>> well, they certainly need to obey the law.

The destruction of property and the assault on the officers who are trying to maintain peace and order, you know, just not acceptable.

As a law enforcement officer, we have an obligation to our community that we represent.

We have an obligation to our citizens to protect them, to protect their property and, you know, just -- we just -- we need to -- we certainly support, you know, the message from the protesters and the peaceful protesters and our job is also to protect them.

And to make sure they can exercise their constitutional rights to protest.

So it's a real challenge right now for law enforcement.

>> najahe: and this question is for our religious leaders in the group.

We'll start with rabbi eric burke.

What conversations have you had with members of your congregations about withes happening in the community and how we treat one another from a spiritual perspective?

>> thank you for having me and asking.

Some conversations have occurred within our congregation.

They've ranged from disbelief to support to i think a righteous anger.

I mean, basically there are two jewish (inaudible) that i try to share with my congructos.

The first is that every human being is created in the image of god.

And justice, justice you shall pursue.

>> dan: mitchell walker is joining us too.

I'm sure you'd echo those thoughts, correct?

>> no one endorses violence or looting or destruction of property or disregard for human life in any respect.

I think that where we have reached now not only what is being demonstrated here in huntsville but across the nation is just a frustration and that has built up and now persons are releasing it sometimes in some unhealthy ways and destructive ways.

There are some things that certainly need to be addressed as a result of the protest.

>> najahe: this question is for the lauderdale county sheriff, rick singleton.

We heard about the need to get more minorities into law enforcement positions.

What seems to be the barrier from your perspective?

>> that -- if i had an answer to that question i'd be a very popular guy.

I don't know what the answer is.

I've been sheriff six years and we had three applicants that were minorities.

I don't know, you know, what the challenge is.

When i was chief of police in florence i sent officers to oakwood.

I sent officers to alabama a&m and other colleges to attempt to recruit.

At that time our challenge was we weren't competitive with salaries and benefits and so forth so, you know, we're sitting next to the fbi and departments like huntsville and nashville that, you know, offer much higher pay and better benefits, better retirement benefits, and so for your local smaller departments, we're just not competitive to be able to recruit.

We certainly -- i talked to the community leaders here in our community and asked for their input and their support.

I've been on the local talk shows on our local black radio station and trying to recruit.

So it's just -- it's another challenge especially for your smaller departments.

>> dan: sheriff, let me follow-up with you a little bit.

Are your deputies trained in race relations?

Is there specific criteria that they go through to prevent these kind of incidents that we have been seeing?

>> there are some -- they receive training at the academy.

You know, we have had diversity training before.

It's been a while.

Obviously, you know, when things like this come up it comes back to the front burner to say, hey, we need to refresh our memory and go through this again.

I'm sure that's something a lot of departments across the country will be doing in the weeks and months ahead.

It's very important.

I think again, my experience in my 40 plus years of law enforcement has been understanding the different cultures.

We have different cultures and people react differently through situations and a lot of that has to do with cultural diversity.

It's important that we understand that and get a grasp for that.

>> najahe: jerry, i want to you the same question from your perspective.

What seems to be the barrier in recruiting minority law enforcement?

>> i think maybe one barrier is that convincing minorities that there is a need for their presence on law enforcement.

So, you know, then if we could get more minorities interested in becoming a law enforcement officer, i think maybe we could see more minorities on force.

>> dan: all right.

Stay with us.

We'll continue this conversation right ?

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>> you're watching waay 31 news: a community conversation.

>> dan: thanks for joining us this evening for our waay 31 town hall, a community conversation.

>> najahe: tonight we're joined by community leaders and experts from the city, government, and law enforcement and religious organizations and community leaders.

I'd like to direct this next question to rabbi eric burke from temple shalom.

In your opinion what can we do to make huntsville a more inclusive place of various religions, races and eththisties.

>> i believe that huntsville is already well on its way to being inclusive and accepting.

That's been my personal experience since moving here about two years ago.

Certainly from the communities of faith here in huntsville.

How many embraced me and my wife and our jewish community, even after those recent antisemitic hate crime vandalism incidents back in march on the first two days of passover.

The outpouring of support was overwhelming.

So i feel like huntsville is, again, well on its way to meeting that goal.

>> dan: kenny anderson, you're the multi-cultural affairs officer for the city of huntsville.

Is this true?

Is this an inclusive community in your opinion?

>> i think we're moving towards that.

I think there are any number of initiatives that are going on right now that represent a desire to have a community where people feel that they're affirmed and respected.

There is the huntsville area community initiative and the interfaith mission service, you have diversity equity inclusion offices on many institution of higher education.

We work closely with all these groups and so many more continually talking about ways that we can work together.

I think one of the missing elements in this process is an opportunity for more people in the community to be engaged and of course we're constantly seeking ways to do so that so we post on social media and try to engage through e-mail.

It's a challenge but i think the more we can connect with people, the more community engagement we can get and the closer we can get towards being a truly inclusive community.

>> najahe: i'd like to refer the same question to bruce jones.

He worked with at-risk youth for more than two decades.

From your perspective, is that the perception you get in dealing with area youth?

>> i think we -- i think we -- we're striving to achieve those goals of harmony and inclusiveness.

You know, any time we have a situation like what happened, it has the tendency to set us back.

Without the proper dialogue and engagement and communication that kenny is talking about, all the games that we a -- gains that we accomplish, we'll lose them.

That's what we have to be concerned about.

I definitely think of huntsville and the surrounding north alabama areas as an area that is a safe place for us to live.

A good place to live and a good place for young people to live.

The goal is how do we continue to set a good example for our young people.

Many times we see them behaving in a way that we are always appalled by it.

We have to ask, they're watching us and monitoring us and learn that from us.

We're their role models so where are they seeing those behaviors from.

Even from the national -- the federal level, the local, they see a lot of conflict and in-fighting and they don't see a lot of agreement.

They don't see people actively listening and dialoguing with each other for possible solutions.

They see just extreme conflicts so that's what they will learn as well and that's how they will react and respond when they're caught in a situation.

So we as adults have to make sure that we're being the role model for the young people at all times.

>> dan: when you say stuff like that, i feel like you're putting a glaring spotlight on the media.

How can we help in doing that?

Are we showing too much of the bad and not enough of the good?

>> one of the things that as director of the services, we were on a regular basis doing positive things in the community to highlight our youth, to engage our youth and to let people see our youth doing positive things.

We would typically send out information asking that the media come and participate with what we're doing because we want the community to see it.

We don't always get the response.

I mean, very seldom will we get response.

When we were doing positive things that the community needed to see.

We were always concerned that if a young person got killed or there was gang violence and many people are injured, you guys would have been there.

If we were doing events and programs to deter gang activity and doing (inaudible) and things like that, we didn't see you guys a lot.

I'd definitely say we need to see more of you highlighting spotlighting the positive things that kids do because kids are -- they're easily influenced.

So if they see those type of things being spotlighted and highlighted, they want to be a part of that.

It's something good and they can build from that.

I definitely think you need to spend more time finding positive things and identifying those things and letting the community know what is going on when young people do positive stuff.

>> dan: right.

Well said.

>> najahe: same question for sheriff rick singleton.

The situation has really put a spotlight on some of the challenges that law enforcement faces in terms of systemic racism.

But do you feel like you're always portrayed in a negative spotlight?

What are the conversations that different law enforcement officers are having?

>> well, i certainly agree with the previous gentleman.

We also try to be proactive and do positive things in the community and it's really difficult to get any kind of media coverage on those.

I think one of the best things we have done in law enforcement in recent years is a good resource officer program.

One of the goals of the program was to establish a rapport with the younger generation.

I think we're really missing the boat right now in law enforcement that we need to connect with the young african american males, 18 to 30 years old.

That's the, you know, they -- as a population they commit a disproportionate amount of the crime and they have a disproportionate amount of negative interaction with law enforcement and we need to find a way to open the line of communication with those young men.

I think that would also help us in the recruiting we were talking about earlier.

We're just -- we're missing the boat there.

We've got to find a way to have dialogue with that particular segment of our population.

>> dan: jerry burnett.

How do we reach that group?

>> how do we reach the group?

>> dan: yeah.

The young black men coming up in the community.

>> i think if we did more advertisement and more recruiting in the -- pass the message in the area where the population is -- where lots of young men is in the community.

If we can pass the word through that to them there, i think we could do a better job of recruiting.

>> najahe: stay with us.

We'll continue the conversation right ?

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>> you're watching waay 31 news, a community conversation.

>> dan: and thank you for joining us for our evening of waay 31's town hall, the community conversation.

>> najahe: tonight we are joined by community leaders and experts from city government, law enforcement, religious organizations and community leaders.

So this next question is for kenny anderson, the multi-cultural affairs officer for the city of huntsville.

And from your perspective and based on what you see, is there a lack of minority leadership in north alabama?

>> i don't know that there is a lack of leadership.

There may be a lack of representation.

I think there a lot of people in the minority community who lead various organizations and have an opportunity to do so in the community or well-known, well represented and well supported.

Are opportunities available for all?

I think that might be a question that people need to look at.

Our council president recently challenged the council to think about board representation and making sure that our boards for the city reflect diversity and inclusion.

I think it would be smart across the spectrum of our community to do the same thing with regards to non-profit organizations and otherwise.

I think there is a plethora of leaders and individuals who are willing to step up and lead.

I think the key in that aspect though is where are the opportunities, so i think a lot of opportunities exist but i think there is room for a lot more.

>> dan: i wanted to step back for a minute back to these protests and jerry burnett, if you could talk about the naacp obviously planned some peaceful protest said.

We talked about that.

There was a big one a few nights ago.

Take us inside the protest and how did it deinvolve into what we saw downtown an hour and a half later?

>> i think the misunderstanding came in when there was a number of participants who wanted to march and of course they may have gotten the wrong message, but we was having a rally, and it didn't include marching so when the people found out that there would be no more march, it kind of upset some of them and they decided, well, we'll march on our own.

That was not a part of the naacp.

We were only there to do the rally in the park and then break up and go home.

But it didn't turn out that way.

But most of the -- most of them -- well, all of the naacp participants that i'm aware of knew there wouldn't be a march.

We -- after we break up, we went on home.

Of course we -- other people was on their own.

>> najahe: so, jerry, moving forward what would your message be to people who talk part in protests?

-- take part in protests?

>> say that again.

>> najahe: moving forward, what would your message be to people who take part in protests?

>> oh.

As i stated at the rally, the main thing we need to focus on is to register and to vote and change the policies that is in place and once we change the -- too many people don't understand how the system works.

I mean, it's too many that refuse to go to the polls and then they think they can change the policy by protesting.

Well, protesting is good because it brings awareness to the problem.

But to get to the root of it, we have to put politicians in office that will make policies that will change.

You have to change it from the legislative process.

Then once it changes, it becomes law and then everybody has to abide by the law.

>> dan: so let's bring bruce jones back into this conversation.

You've been working with the youth in north alabama for a couple of decades now.

So how do we do that?

How do you bring up this next generation to make a positive change in this community through positive action?

>> well, let me go back to the question asked about how do we get more minorities involved into the police force and that.

Well, we have a -- well, we have a program.

I say we.

I'm retired for four months so i haven't let go yet.

We had a program called path.

Police activity lead.

The purpose of the program was to get the police involved with the kids in coaching, play, whatever.

It was very difficult for us to get the police to come and actually be a member and participate and lead, coach, whatever.

Occasionally we'd get one or two.

But just to get an overwhelming number of police to be a part of that was difficult.

I feel like if the police were involved with the kids on that level, the kids -- because we adults are their role models.

They see the police officers as role models and doing something positive and engaging with them.

When they see them now, they see them arresting their brothers or pulling them over if something happens and i'm not saying that's always the case, but they do see it from a negative light because they don't get to see the positive interaction.

If they get to see the positive interaction, the next thing they're talking about is, hey, i think i want to be a police officer and like officer john.

He is really cool.

Those are ways that we can get kids involved in those positive things but if we don't -- as a police officer or police department take the time to really engage in the community and those type positive ways they'll be seen in the negative lights because the only thing they'll see is what they see on tv and the community and that's not always good.

>> najahe: so same question to sheriff singleten.

In your opinion, how do you from a grassroots fundamental place get these minority communities and minorities to want to be a part of the force?

>> well, i certainly agree with everything the gentleman just said.

It's about community involvement.

Like i said, one of the best programs we implemented was the school resource program where we have interaction with the kids at school.

It has to go beyond school.

You know, it's very refreshing when you see posts on social media where officers are playing basketball with the cuds in the neighborhood.

I saw a picture here the other day where an officer had gone by the boys and girls club and bought the kids ice cream after work.

Those kinds of things and absolutely what the gentleman said, most people who have interaction with law enforcement, it's not in the best situation.

It's, you know, no one calls the police when everything is going well.

It's not a good environment to -- and unfortunately a lot of people judge law enforcement strictly by their own personal interaction with them which a majority of the time is not a good situation.

We absolutely need to do a better job of getting more involved in the community.

Again, one of the shamings is with the -- challenges is with the younger generation we're employing now and it's not just law enforcement but, you know, civic club.

You look across the community and look at the demographic of the club.

A lot -- the average age is 70 to 80.

The foremost thing about law enforcement is it's made up of human beings.

They have the same desires, same, you know, interest in other people have and unfortunately lot of our citizens today just don't have an interest in civic and community involvement.

Dopp interesting.

Ken arb -- >> dan: interesting.

Kenny, it sounds like a common thing we're hearing which is involvement.

Involvement from the youth all the way up and includes everyone.

We've got to get more young people involved.

>> we do need to get more young people involved.

I'd suggest that young people are heavily involved right now.

What we need to do perhaps is be more intentional to establish and support mentoring programs that are already established out there.

Not just through funds but through our presence.

Our ability to be able to direct them and guide them to help them participate in processes that are important to the overall working of the city that includes things like city council, school board, et cetera.

Got to expose them to those kinds of things.

I want to step back for one minute on the question of getting minority young people on the force.

That indeed is one answer to the challenge that we're facing but that's not the only answer and that may not even be the dominant answer.

I think the dominant answer is in addition to providing opportunities for minorities to join the force is to elevate the degree of respect for people in the minority community and enhance the quality of relationships between law enforcement and communities of color.

I think that involves a lot of community engagement where people are proactively engaged and i think that we see a lot of evidence of that here in huntsville through programs like community awareness for youth which is a program that i direct out of my office which was started in the huntsville police department many years ago.

It's a back to school program where there is sort of cross engagement between them.

The police and the community and i think that's extremely positive.

Our crisis intervention training program focuses on minorities and mental health issues that works to strengthen those particular relationships.

I think that there is great opportunity for the community to be proaffectly engaged in strengthening the foundation of communities of color with law enforcement communities so that when challenges arise, you're not talking to strangers.

You're talking to friends and people you developed relationships with.

I grew up in new york city.

There was something called the police athletic league.

This was a group of police officers who provided sports training programs for people of color in the communities.

They provided uniforms and made sure we had access to ballparks and equipment.

I think those kinds of things are so important to be able to strengthen the relationships.

All success in life is relational and we have to start early and be consistent and do it often.

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>> you're watching waay 31 news.

A community conversation.

>> dan: thanks for joining us this evening for our waay 31 town hall, a community conversation.

>> najahe: tonight we're joined by community leaders and experts from city government, law enforcement, religious organizations and community leaders.

Confederate monuments have been in the news a lot and a push in many communities to bring them down.

Whether they still should have a place out in the open and in our communities.

Let's take this question to mitchell walker with the greater huntsville interdenominational minister fellowship.

What is your perspective on confederate monuments?

>> well, monuments -- confederate monuments raise for those of us who are african americans some bad memories.

Some hurt and they represent something that was defeated that still is being idolized and something that is significant for everyone.

So to move those, at least relocate them from where they are, for example, in our downtown area like the courthouse is certainly significant.

I think what that would do is someone mentioned earlier before we came on, they described where we are right now as the pot is boiling over.

I think what needs to be done to help simmer the heat, that would certainly help.

We can't just wait until we arrive at these critical junctures and pivotal points where there are emergencies and crisis.

We have to figure out ways to continue the conversation when we're not in emergency mode.

Certainly moving that monument would certainly be important.

I know that doesn't sit well with part of the community but for those of us who are african americans, it represents something that is hurtful and historically that has been harmful to us.

>> dan: kenny anderson.

Dr. walker just advocated for removing that confederate statue.

You must walk by that every day.

What's your opinion on that?

>> i think it's important for us to talk about how do we move forward.

I think that these symbols of oppression and that the symbols of war that was a terrible experience in the united states still stands today.

I think if they're going to be displayed they should be displayed on private property, not public property.

That's a conversation that all people should have in this community.

I think that there should be an opportunity for people to express their feelings about this and there should be strategic methods to go about finding ways in order to make the environment better.

It's important for us to remember this.

A lot of what we're talking about in terms of the discomfort in our nation today has a lot to do with insensitivity and also has a lot to do with the deeply embedded institutionalized and structural racism in our nation today.

That's undeniable.

It doesn't matter what people want to do to put window dressing on it.

It is what it is.

Consequently it has consequences.

So it's important for us to look at these types of challenges that we're facing and we see that there is a wave of movement around our nation where these symbols again of oppression are being taken down and relegated to places that are either private or storage facilities where they are better displayed or better stored but, you know, if you were a black person or are a black person and you had to constantly be faced with something that represented the oppression of people for 400 plus years in this nation through many of the ways in which that oppression was expressed and in many of the ways it continues to be expressed.

We're seeing some of the protests today not just around this nation but the solidarity around the world with black people in america.

I think it's worty of people having a -- worthy of people having a meaningful conversation about how do we move forward.

>> dan: there is certainly a lot of anger about that topic and many are not going to wait for the legislature to get around to them removing those statues.

Bruce jones.

What do the young people say about these confederate monuments and statues?

>> their experience with it is negative as well.

They haven't seen very -- even if you want to look at it from the history books and all that as well, they -- their experience is negative.

Do they see statues of positive black men and black women who have sacrificed and contributed to this great nation?

They don't see a lot of that.

They need to see symbols and emblems of heritage and pride for them as well.

When they have to see confederate and -- plus, they read about it and, you know, they're suppose today be able to have some type of -- i can't say pride but they're supposed to read this and study this and for whatever reason they have to take a test on it and that's not -- can you understand from the oppressive point of view, that's tough.

That's difficult.

Then we give that month of black history and then that's supposed to be pride and enough to tell black kids that you are support.

You are special.

So how do we empower them?

We empower them by allowing them to see positive black men and black women who have sacrificed and made contributions and then they learn about what they did and now they come back and do those things in our community.

So i definitely -- i believe that it's not nothing that they can be proud about and unfortunately that's what they're having to live with.

They're angry and you're seeing that behavior come out of them.

They want to see more positive black men and women spotlighted and highlighted that they can say they look like me and contributed to this great country.

>> najahe: i want to direct this question back to kenny.

We recently heard governor kay ivey say something along the lines that these confederate monuments are a part of alabama history that can't be erased.

What is your response to that?

>> my response is this is exactly why elections matter.

And every election matters.

If there are legislators who want to continue to hold on to the past.

If there are leaders who want to continue to hold on to the past inspite of progressive movement, the desire of people to eliminate the oppression of the past, then this again just for me highlights the necessity of people registering to vote as mr. burnett said because elections matter.

I think we need to hold people who we put into office accountable for the decisions they make.

I think that's why every election matters.

If the alabama state legislator made this law, if the governor passed it, if people are not happy about it then they need to exercise their right to speak out and they need to exercise their right to vote.

This is something that i think represents a great opportunity for the power of the people to be exercised at the ballot, and in doing so, i think that when people challenge things they're not comfortable with that it's important again that people are held accountable for the choices they'd make in office.

It's important for people to think about the larger picture here.

It's one thing, you know, if you move the memorial, and i'm okay with that.

To remove the memorial.

I think that's the right thing to do.

You still have -- as i said earlier, you still have policies in place.

You still have various procedures in place that perpetually oppress people, keep people in the system of institutionalized and structural racism and whether that's through experiences such as implicit bias or something that's even more intentional and deliberate, these are the conversations we need to have to move people forward and people need to be challenged at every turn with regards to the choices they make regarding these matters.

>> dan: thanks, mr. anderson.

Stay with us.

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>> you're watching waay 31 news: a community conversation.

>> dan: thank you for staying with us this evening for our waay 31 town hall, a community conversation.

>> najahe: tonight we're joined by community leaders and experts from city government, law enforcement, religious organizations and community leaders.

Let's start the block with jerry burnett from the naacp.

We were just discussing this.

There are confederate monuments all over alabama.

Here in north alabama.

From your perspective, do they still have a place in our community?

Why or why not?

>> oh, my take on the confederate monument is that it should not be displayed in public because it's really an insult to the black community when you look at it and you glorify who was really a criminal organization that tried to overthrow the united states government because they did not want to set their slaves free.

At the time that abraham lincoln was elected, the southern states knew his plan was to abolish slavery.

Rather than that, they said we'll take the slaves and leave the union.

So in order to -- for abraham lincoln to pull the country back together it became a civil war.

The fight was no matter what people said, they said state rights.

That don't give you the right to own a human being.

When you say the war was about states' rights, well, the states' rights was they wanted the rights to own, buy and sell humans which is an insult to the black community when we talk about glorifying people who tried to oppress the entire black community and to make them work for free.

It's -- that's my take on it.

I think it was all about preserving slavery and before they said we'll set our slave free, we'll start a civil war and we'll overthrow the united states government and had the south won, slavery would have continued.

>> dan: these monuments are just painful reminders for that community.

>> true.

>> dan: all right.

Thank you.

Stay with us.

We'll >> dan: thanks for joining us this evening for the waay 31 town hall, a community conversation.

>> najahe: we just wrapped up an hour-long conversation with community leaders from city government, law enforcement, religious organizations and community leaders.

>> dan: find the whole conversation online at waaytv.com.

Thanks for joining us.

Realtime captions provided by: tennessee

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