Unity for Community

Note: My name is Jeffrey Dick. I have lived in South Haven for 23 years. I am the father of six children, five of whom are African American or bi-racial. I am also the grandfather of four children. I serve as the pastor of First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. I have written the following account of a meeting held at City Hall on July 14, 2016. One of the concerns at that meeting was that no one from the media was in attendance. Concern was raised how the results of this meeting would be told. I have decided to tell the story from my perspective. It is very possible that I have left out some details and may have not gotten everything correct. I apology for any errors or omissions. I will gladly amend this report if informed. I am honored to be a part of a community trying to do what is right.

 

Unity for Community

 Excellent words spoken more than once during a two hour meeting tonight, July 14th at City Hall. While the meeting was not publicized very well, over 50 people ( and perhaps closer to 75) attended this meeting hosted by the South Haven Police Department and African American Clergy from South Haven.

Natalie Thompson, Acting Police Chief, began the meeting with some words of introduction. She set the stage by referring to the events of the evening of July 3rd that took place at Lakeside Lanes in South Haven. Police were called to the bowling alley after a series of 911 calls. We learned tonight that two of those calls were not communicated correctly to local officers. The police department played two of the 911 calls for all to hear. A disturbance was reported, but officers were told there was fighting outside the alley taking place and the possibility of a weapon. This proved untrue

 There was a large private party taking place inside. Large crowd outside, parking lot was full of cars. When officers arrived there was the smell of marijuana. Because of this illegal activity, the officers decided to close the party down. They tried to communicate to the group to leave. They were unable to be heard. They were unable to get tot the Professional DJ playing music. The decision was made to fire pepper spray above the crowd. This proved to cause panic and fear in many of those present.

 Most had not heard the request to leave. Others who tried to leave found an exit door blocked and were unable. The police officers and Acting Chief Thompson acknowledged this situation created panic and should have been handled differently. The situation is being reviewed and changes put in place for the future. The officer in charge for the night repeatedly apologize for the panic and fear and hurt that have been caused. He has apologized directly to a number of young people who were affected that evening, two of whom were in attendance at this community meeting. Those young women accepted that apology. They also want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

 A number of questions were raised about procedures and how harmful this event was to young people in the community. Good questions were raised and answers given.

 Pastor Wilkins spoke often during the evening. He, along with Pastor Darryl Williams and Bobby Walker have had numerous meetings with Chief Thompson. Pastor Wilkins spoke about searching and working for solutions not finding more problems. He spoke of the scriptural call to be peacemakers and asked how we are working to bring peace to the community.

 One concern raised was who was invited to these meetings, including those with the police department. Better publicity of these meetings was encouraged.

Others spoke about the need for unity in the community. Theresa Cunningham raised the question of how often white people invite a black person to break bread together and then asked black people how often they invite white people to share a meal. She spoke of how we can’t let this be all talk, but follow with action.

This was a fairly diverse group with half the group being African American and the other Caucasian. There was a large number of African American clergy present and at least five Caucasian clergy present. Parents and Grandparents, city council members, at least 7 members of the police department and a small number of young adults.

One concern was how the results of this meeting and the public apology of the police department are shared with the community and especially the young people. It was noted that there were no representatives of the media present. People were encouraged to use social media, talk to their churches, their children and grandchildren about this. Officer Pauly stated that he would go anywhere he could to share this story. He seemed very genuine in his offer.

At the end of the meeting a number of significant items were shared. Bobby Walker mentioned his basketball tournament coming up during Blueberry festival and how members of the police department will be playing a game there. He also spoke of efforts to bring a Boys and Girls Club to South Haven.

Brian Dissette, City Manager, spoke about discipline policy for all city staff and how two staff have recently been dismissed for breaking employment policy, including one in the police department. There are rules and procedures for such situations and the city follows those carefully. He also mentioned that beginning Friday, July 15th, Lincoln Elementary will be open from 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. for basketball and gathering for youth. This is a partnership between the city and the South Haven Schools. Dr. Bob Herrera has been working with the city and Bobby Walker to make this happen. This is a trial experiment for six weeks. Mr. Dissette spoke how the city use to offer community services and senior services. That fell out of place. The city has placed a lot of focus on infrastructure and now needs to focus on community services. This was met with applause.

Lastly, there was mentioned about the planned protest march to be held on August 13th. It was explained that this was now intended to be a unity march with the hope that blacks and whites and the police department would walk together to show unity. Plans for boycotting business have been dropped.

As the meeting ended, there was a lot of hugging and handshaking going on. People broke into smaller groups to greet one another and to share other stories. There was a lot of positive energy in the room. Talk of how to continue moving forward was a popular conversation.

I left the meeting feeling very upbeat. For days I had felt frustrated and disappointed with what I was reading on social media and from members of the community. This meeting showed a community wanting to come together and be united. Now we need to move beyond talking to taking action.