Police, community seek solidarity at get-together
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
A room full of every-day folks rubbed shoulders with law enforcement officers from Leon County Sheriff, Tallahassee police and fire departments. They danced, ate and had plenty of conversation during the highlight event of what organizers tabbed Solidarity Weekend.
The event was staged by Bethel Missionary Baptist Church to bring law enforcement and first responders together with the community in an effort to strengthen the bond between both entities.
“It gives us a platform for the children and leaders in the community to see us, talk to us and interact with us and get to know us a little bit,” said Tony Geraldi, a sergeant with Leon County Sheriff. “Hopefully bridge that gap of the wall like we can’t talk to you guys.
“We can be approached and we want to be approached. Sometimes the uniform can carry a command presence that we don’t have time for you. We do have time for everybody. We want to talk to people.”
The event at Bethel Life Center was an initiative by Rev. R.B. Holmes, pastor at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. He said the event is one of several steps in fostering a relationship that could get stronger and head off any of the potential conflicts between society and police like those that have gripped the nation in recent months over police involved-shootings of Blacks.
The weekend culminated with a Sunday morning service at the church.
For most of the nearly three hour event, officers were engaged in conversations with children and adults.
“That’s a game-changer,” Holmes said. “That’s how you don’t build walls but build bridges.
“I think to be able to resolve and strengthen community relations, we need these types of activities from the faith-based community.”
Holmes said he expects other churches around the nation to follow suit and stage similar events to keep the conversation going about fixing what is becoming a social ill.
“We cannot go backward,” he said. “We’ve got to go forward. This is very important.”
Indeed, said Rod Young, a captain with TPD. Events such as the solidarity weekend is a good way to augment the department’s on-going Operation Safe Neighborhood, through which police officers go door-to-door in some of the neighborhoods with high crime rates.
“It’s great,” Young said. “This is something we need to have in our community because this is truly the way we build a partnership. It’s also another way that we build the trust. If we can do these things on a regular basis it will be great because it’s something that makes our communities feel that they are human beings and we are human beings. It’s all about relationships.”
Other civic organizations should follow the lead set by Bethel, Young said.
“Everybody has a piece to put into the puzzle,” he said. “It’s what makes the community great when everybody has the interaction with each other.”
Events such as the solidarity weekend could go a long way in helping those who fear law enforcement to be more at ease, Young said. On the other hand, he said officers will feel that their effort to give back is paying off.
“We have to serve the community,” he said. “There is no other way that you can do it. It’s a beautiful concept when you are giving to the community.”
But it will take even more get-togethers and longer conversations to solidify police-community relationships, said Victor Wiley.
Since the recent outbreak of clashes between protesters and police, he has been having constant conversations with his children about any potential encounters with police, he said.
“I tell them you have to do what you can do to make sure there isn’t a conflict,” Wiley said. “There are good law enforcement officers. Usually there is 1 or 2 percent of officers that we may have issues with but that doesn’t mean the whole agency is bad. We need them.”
Even the FAMU men’s basketball team participated in the event, just hours after returning from a series of games in Canada. Coach Byron Samuels said the event was too important for his players to miss.
“Our basketball program is all about teaching our young people how to serve and not be bystanders,” Samuel said. “So when I heard about this, “I thought it would be a good idea to bring the team here.”