HAMLET — In an attempt to continue the dialogue regarding race relations with law enforcement agencies, the Richmond County chapter of the NAACP held a roundtable discussion Thursday night at Wayman Chapel AME Zion Church.
On the panel for the evening was Donald Matthews, district director for the North Carolina NAACP; Angela Carter, a Hoke County attorney and district court judge candidate; Robert Wilson, former N.C. Assistant Secretary of State; Hamlet Police Chief Scott Waters, Hamlet Mayor Bill Bayless; the Rev. Dian Griffin Jackson; Dobbins Heights Mayor and local NAACP President Antonio Blue and deputy Orlando Robinson from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
“Don’t think we’re immune to it. We’re right down the road from it. It can happen, but we wanna be proactive and stop it from happening,” Blue said regarding previous shootings in Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas. “At the end of the day we wanna be proactive so that this doesn’t happen to us in Richmond County, ‘cause everybody wants to go home at the end of the day. Everybody. That’s the ultimate goal is that everybody goes home safe and no one gets hurt.”
Carter said the country has a heart problem and although there’s a desire for safety on both parties, there’s also a communication issue that stems from a generational gap pertaining to how people perceive each other.
“I’m not gonna sit up here and say that I have some idea of what a solution would be, but I love the idea of communities coming together,” said Carter. “And we wanna hear each other talk about perspectives. What’s the driving force behind this? I believe that when we come together in love, that we start the process of healing.”
The perspective of Matthews may be slightly different than most people, and he said he belongs to an exclusive club. Matthews lost his son several years ago to gun violence.
“What I am seeing is that we’re in a crisis, and we need to really truly understand that crisis and understand how we got here,” he said. “We did not get here overnight.”
Matthews spoke about the war on drugs in the 1980s under the Ronald Reagan administration that he said gave police forces carte blanche to do what they want with enforcement.
“When they see you they don’t need to see a black man. They need to see a man. Bottom line. Color should be not be one of the focuses. But what happens is color is the main focus. That’s the first thing we see. You can tell that by the 135 people that have been killed since January of this year. African-Americans. Males and a couple of females that have been killed in police custody,” said Matthews. “If we don’t have these conversations, things are going to get a lot worse. And quick.”
From the law enforcement side, Waters’ main focus was that the country has gotten away from God. With youths in Richmond County running the streets, he said, it starts at home.
“Parents don’t have no idea where they’re at. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they’re working, maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re doing drugs,” said Waters. “We’re not teaching our kids what we need to be teaching them. And it starts with us. Red, yellow, black or white, I bleed red just like y’all do. I can’t help that I’m white. God made me white.”
Waters said officers’ jobs at the Hamlet Police Department are to protect and serve the citizens, and they’re taught to treat everyone with respect, hoping for that same respect in return.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of racial problems in Hamlet that I’m aware of. There’s good, bad and evil in all races. There’s good, bad and evil from all professions,” said the police chief. “Where’s our youth at today? Are they in church or on the street corner? Where’s our economy at? Where’s jobs at? There’s none. There’s no jobs.”
“I don’t look at black and white when I stop a car. I’m scared to death if the law stops me, and I’m the police chief,” Waters continued. “I get scared cause I think I’m gonna get in trouble and get a ticket. So I don’t know how to tell our youth not to be scared, but the media, sometimes they’re trying to sell that story. So they’ll show you a blurp of a video, and it looks bad. But some videos you don’t see the whole story. You see a blurp that makes the headlines that keeps you tuned into that channel. The media is a money making business too. The wheel’s broke, and we’ve gotten away from the good Lord. And I’m glad we’re in church tonight cause this is where we need to be at. But the police can’t do anything without the community.”
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674 and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.