In response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, city officials answered tough questions from the public.
Danielle Jackson Kinnard, a life-long Stone County resident, organized Raw and Relevant, a town hall meeting, at Wiggins Church of God in Christ this past Thursday.
Jackson Kinnard said she wanted to give community members the chance to ask local leaders how they are addressing national issues like racism and excessive police force.
“It’s important that everybody come to the table and have their voices heard,” Jackson Kinnard said.
On May 25, Floyd was arrested after allegedly using a counterfeit $20 to pay for food. He died after being handcuffed and held down by four officers. Officers kept their body weight on him for nearly nine minutes. One officer kept his knee on the back of his neck. Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe. He became unresponsive after six minutes.
His death has sparked protests across the country.
Jackson Kinnard said her goal is for attendees and panelists to walk away feeling motivated to find solutions.
“Moving forward is the theme,” Jackson Kinnard said. “We are here to develop solutions.”
Questions were submitted from the crowd as well as from a Facebook live feed.
The main questions asked dealt directly with local law enforcement policies.
Panelists included Mayor Joel Miles, Police Chief Matt Barnett, Sheriff Mike Farmer, Detective Ray Boggs, and several other law enforcement officers.
Local church leaders present included pastor Mike Minnis, of Northwood Church, Robby Rikard, lead pastor of First Baptist Wiggins, and Tyler Eggers, of Venture Church’s Wiggins campus.
The first question asked, “What can we do consistently to show our black community, es-pecially our youth…that we are doing what we can to protect them?”
Mayor Miles said he thinks the police are doing a great job at staying involved in the community, but the city could always do more.
Police officer Tim Hill cited many efforts by the department to stay engaged with local youth such as charity events and camps. Hill said officers are encouraged to interact with youth and let them ride in a patrol car or play with the siren when they can.
“We have more events that we are looking at doing,” Hill said.
Another question asked: “What are some measures that can be taken to ensure good community-oriented policy in police officers?”
“One of the most important things…is training,” Miles said.
Miles said in Chief Barnett's tenure, he has lobbied for training opportunities for all officers and maintains high expectations for officers.
“They know that (Chief Barnett) will not accept excessive force or brutality,” Miles said.
In response, Barnett said the department goes by national standards to ensure officers are qual-ified and capable of handling law enforcement duties. Any time someone applies for a position on the force, they are subjected to a thorough background check and interviews first. If they are hired, they attend 12 weeks of police academy training and up to 12 additional weeks of field training.
“We try to train people for the issues we are facing,” Barnett said. “As things evolve, we try to get that training and make our people better.”
Barnett said additional training in deescalation tactics is helpful in preventing violent encounters.
Sheriff Farmer said he tries to hire officers with local connections so they are already somewhat familiar with communities and citizens. His other policy-making sure officers treat citizens as they would want their own family treated.
“I won’t tolerate anything less,” Farmer said.
“How do you handle an encounter with an African American who is non-compliant?”
Both the Police Chief Barnett and Sheriff Farmer said the type of situation is always different and they try to arrest people as peacefully as possible.
Detective Ray Boggs said he gets up close and personal with those who are non-compliant to diffuse tough situations.
“I have listened to people rant and rave for up to 45 minutes because I was taught that you had to interject yourself into the lives of those you serve,” Boggs said.
Understanding why someone is upset in the first place is key to solving the problem.
“You have to approach from the heart,” Boggs said. “You don’t always have to use force. Have I ever used force? Yes, I have. Have I had to get tough with somebody? Yes, I have. But those times are few and far between.”
Boggs said teaching officers how to be patient and listen better can change the public image.
How do law enforcement leaders discipline or educate an officer who uses excessive force? How many times may an officer be written up for before he is fired?
Chief Barnett said he has handled officers who use excessive force by correcting them on the job. If someone later files a complaint, the department starts by reviewing body camera footage with the officer and using it as a training opportunity. If it is more serious, they can be fired on the spot.
In response, Sheriff Farmer said the last officer who used excessive force was fired on the spot.
What are your thoughts and views on what happened to George Floyd?
all Law enforcement officers present unanimously agreed his death should not have happened.
Chief Barnett said from what he had seen related to Floyd’s death, his death should have never happened.
“It’s just common sense—what they did was wrong,” Barnett said. “(George Floyd) was already in handcuffs. He was secured. There were four officers there…there was no need for unneces-sary force.”
Sheriff Farmer said it was an unacceptable act.
“I hate it happened. It should have never happened,” Farmer said.
Detective Boggs said he was heartbroken at the video.
“We don't want Stone County to see what happened in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We want change,” Boggs said.
The mayor was asked if he agreed with the decision to fire all officers involved in the last ques-tion of the meeting.
Mayor Miles said he agrees with the decision to fire the officers.
“In that case, it was 100 percent the right thing for that mayor to do,” Miles said.