Church builds bridges to save lives

“But some­where there's a dis­con­nect be­tween the pub­lic per­cep­tion and the per­cep­tion of law en­force­ment when it comes to pri­mar­ily black males. The two per­cep­tions seem at op­po­site ends of the spec­trum. So for that rea­son, a black church in Belle Glade is

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - DAPHNE TAYLOR By

The sirens have been heard around the world. Po­lice sirens, re­spond­ing to a ran­dom call - some­times just for a bro­ken tail light, and others for a man hus­tling cig­a­rettes in front of a store. But in the end, some­one ended up dead - seem­ingly for no good rea­son at all. Sense­less mur­ders. Over the past few years, un­founded mur­ders of black men and women have popped up all across this coun­try at the hands of those de­signed to serve and pro­tect. But why? Why does it seem as though po­lice have no re­gard for black lives? In fact, in the view­point of the black pub­lic - it ap­pears quite ap­par­ent that black lives DON'T mat­ter ... at least not to cops, many say. But when you speak to law en­force­ment of­fi­cers across the board, they say that's not true. Black lives and ALL lives do mat­ter to them, they say. They point out that the ma­jor­ity of the po­lice of­fi­cers out there are good cops and in fact wanted to be a po­lice of­fi­cer in the first place in or­der to serve the pub­lic in the best ways pos­si­ble.

That's the rea­son they signed up for the job, they say in de­fense of their pro­fes­sion.

But some­where there's a dis­con­nect be­tween the pub­lic per­cep­tion and the per­cep­tion of law en­force­ment when it comes to pri­mar­ily black males. The two per­cep­tions seem at op­po­site ends of the spec­trum. So for that rea­son, a black church in Belle Glade is do­ing some­thing about it!

At a time when ten­sion be­tween law en­force­ment and the black com­mu­nity is high, Mt. Zion AME Church in Belle Glade is work­ing to bridge the gap and rec­og­nize those pub­lic ser­vants who serve and pro­tect our com­mu­nity. The 27th An­nual Maude Vereen Law En­force­ment, Pub­lic Ser­vice, and Mil­i­tary Ap­pre­ci­a­tion Day will be­gin this Sun­day, May 21 at 11 a.m. at the church, lo­cated at 908 SW Av­enue “B” Place in Belle Glade. The pro­gram will rec­og­nize Palm Beach County’s finest as well as school po­lice, pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers, paramedics and mil­i­tary per­son­nel.

Iron­i­cally, the ap­pre­ci­a­tion day is named in honor of Maude Vereen, who made his­tory in 1958 by be­com­ing Belle Glade's first woman of­fi­cer to be named on the force. To­day, Vereen is still ac­tive at Mt. Zion AME and in the com­mu­nity at 85 years young! She is a former "Cit­i­zen of the Year" in Belle Glade and has out­lived four of her six chil­dren. She is the old­est mother, at­tend­ing Mt. Zion reg­u­larly. In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with the South

Florida Times, she of­fered her per­spec­tive on law en­force­ment to­day and how things have changed since her days on the force. She has her own thoughts on the ob­vi­ous ten­sions with the com­mu­nity and law en­force­ment to­day and ex­plained where she be­lieves things have turned sour with the two fac­tions. Hav­ing spent nearly 40 years in law en­force­ment, she has a broad view of the pro­fes­sion and the changes since she made his­tory over five decades ago.

"On both sides, no­body wants to wait these days. Ev­ery­body wants to take ac­tions into their own hands," Vereen ex­plained of law en­force­ment to­day. "We do have some good of­fi­cers, but no­body wants to lis­ten. We need to learn to have a lis­ten­ing ear and then in­ter­nal­ize what they're say­ing and we'll get more out of it. I got more ac­com­plished with­out a gun. I have so many young men that come up to me to­day and tell me how I changed their life by just by talk­ing to them." Oddly enough, Vereen never used or car­ried a gun dur­ing her en­tire ten­ure span­ning 40 years. She didn't feel she needed one and per­pe­tra­tors she en­coun­tered never knew whether she had a weapon or not since she car­ried a satchel with her. "I got more ac­com­plished with words. But who knows, with to­day's gen­er­a­tion I might need one.

“The young peo­ple to­day don't get as good home train­ing. But as older peo­ple we don't reach out enough to save them." Vereen said she is look­ing for­ward to Sun­day's cer­e­mony and be­lieves this year will be spe­cial for all in­volved.

Rev­erend Wil­liam E. Cooper, Jr., Pas­tor of Mt. Zion, said he too, be­lieves Sun­day will be spe­cial be­cause his church is work­ing on bridg­ing the gap.

"This event is very im­por­tant be­cause as a church we want to be a bridge and pro­vide neu­tral ground where both sides can be heard. Our young peo­ple need to see of­fi­cers up close and per­sonal and not in a con­fronta­tional sit­u­a­tion. And of­fi­cers need to see that these young peo­ple are not all crim­i­nals," said Rev. Cooper. "We need to break bread to­gether. Ed­u­ca­tion is the key to ex­pec­ta­tion."

Cooper said cul­tural train­ing among of­fi­cers is crit­i­cal.

"From a po­lice per­spec­tive, there's a lack of cul­tural sen­si­tiv­ity. And in in­stances of black males, our non­ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tions can be­come an is­sue. As an of­fi­cer, they're trained to re­spond if they per­ceive their life is in jeop­ardy. We need to teach our chil­dren how to re­spond if stopped by an of­fi­cer be­cause that 15 minute en­counter can go ter­ri­bly wrong and turn deadly. And that's not called for. There needs to be a greater cul­tural train­ing on both sides. We need to be taught how to re­spond so that we'll live past the mo­ment," Cooper ex­plained.

The key­note speaker will be Leonard Mitchell, As­sis­tant Po­lice Chief in Riviera Beach. Prior to be­ing hired by Riviera Beach, As­sis­tant Chief Mitchell was em­ployed by the Palm Beach County School District Po­lice De­part­ment for 24 years and re­tired in March 2007.

As­sis­tant Chief Mitchell will share his years of ex­pe­ri­ence in law en­force­ment and the ben­e­fits of be­ing a pub­lic ser­vant to bring an up­lift­ing mes­sage to this year's ser­vice.

The ser­vice will also fea­ture gospel mu­sic by the Mt. Zion Mass Choir and a spe­cial prayer of pro­tec­tion for all those pub­lic ser­vants at­tend­ing the pro­gram. Fol­low­ing the ser­vice, Mt. Zion will pro­vide a fel­low­ship din­ner for all at­ten­dees.

“We want the law en­force­ment com­mu­nity to know that we ap­pre­ci­ate and sup­port their ef­forts to make our com­mu­ni­ties safe on a daily ba­sis,” said Rev. Cooper. “Mrs. Vereen re­al­ized some 30 years ago its nice for the com­mu­nity to say thank you to its pub­lic ser­vants. The church plans to keep this ap­pre­ci­a­tion ser­vice as part of its an­nual tra­di­tion.”

The pub­lic is wel­come to at­tend.

“Ev­ery­body wants to take ac­tions into their own hands," Vereen ex­plained of law en­force­ment to­day. "We do have some good of­fi­cers, but no­body wants to lis­ten.We need to learn to have a lis­ten­ing ear and then in­ter­nal­ize what they're say­ing and we'll get more out of it. I got more ac­com­plished with­out a gun.”

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY OF WIL­LIAM E. COOPER SR.

Wil­liam E. Cooper Jr. (left). Top right: Maude Vereen to­day at age 85 and be­low in 1958 as a rookie po­lice of­fi­cer.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.