ROCKINGHAM — Ruth Smith from Ashley Chapel AME Zion Church stood up during Tuesday’s NAACP meeting and began the conversation that Tavares Bostic was looking for.
The church held the last day of its Girl Scout camp earlier on Tuesday and found something startling — but not necessarily surprising.
“One of the things that we found out is that our youth are scared to death of what’s going on,” said Smith. “Because they don’t know when they could be the next one. Who could be gunned down.”
Smith was referring to the fatal shootings of Philandro Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana last week that was followed by the shooting of 12 police officers in Dallas.
She said their church is planning to gather its youth together and have a conversation and invite police officers to sit down with them.
“So that the dialogue between the community and our youth and the police officers, hopefully that will help them to understand what’s going on and not to be so afraid,” Smith said. “But how could they not be afraid when it’s happening over and over again. But that’s one of the things we’re gonna try and do in our church.”
In answer to Bostic’s earlier question of what’s next, he said “Ashley Chapel is next.”
“There’s a lot of flawed ideologies out there about different entities — cops, us, whoever else,” Bostic said. “What I’m saying is that we need more than conspiracy theorists. There’s a lot of folks out there that’s creating all these different avenues of craziness.
“We need more than that,” he continued. “I’m asking young, old, whoever, whatever, I don’t really care. We have to know how to show up. I love what I’m seeing on TV where everyone’s showing up and marching and all those things, but I guarantee you if someone comes out and asks those protesters, ‘What is it you’re looking for? How are we gonna sustain?’ Many of them will be as quiet as you were tonight.”
Someone has to be able to put black people on high alert, he said, adding that the responsibility falls on everyone at the meeting.
“When these things happen and you continue to be silent, we die. That’s the best way I can say it. Your silence kills us,” said Bostic. “I, for one, don’t wanna see anymore of my brothers dead, anymore of my sisters dead, anymore cops dead. I know a lot of people feel like Richmond County’s in a bubble and these things certainly can’t happen to us, but it only takes one good bullet. One good one and that’s it.”
Jennifer Watkins spoke regarding the county feeling like it’s in a bubble and reiterated that killings and violence aren’t just across the globe, across the nation or in another part of the state — it’s here.
“As a mother of a 7-year-old little boy, I’m scared because I fear them growing up,” she said. “I know as his mother, as his advocate, I need to do something. I need to take a stand. I need to what I have to do to make sure that he can grow up and not be susceptible to life and not be a target because of his skin color.”
Antonio Blue, who is the president of the Richmond County NAACP and mayor of Dobbins Heights, responded to Smith’s comments earlier about sitting down with police officers and encouraged her to take it a little further.
“You said you all are gonna have a dialogue but the dialogue doesn’t only need to be with the police. You need elected officials at that meeting because something you didn’t think about,” said Blue. “The governor of Minnesota, he said that young man (Castile), if he were white, he would’ve made it home. Now when the governor of the state says that, there has to be a little validity to it.”
Blue told everyone to be mindful of the fact that racial tensions between African-Americans and law enforcement is nothing new, dating back to the ’50s and ’60s. The difference today, he said, is technology.
“There was no social media. Most people didn’t have televisions. They weren’t showing it on the news. So therefore, you did not see it,” Blue said. “It’s been happening. It’s nothing new. But until you can have an open conversation with people that are white, with people that are black, people of higher income, lower income, all across the board and have an open conversation. You don’t understand what it’s like to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth. You don’t understand what it’s like to be poor and have to fend for your family when you are 10, 11, 12 years old. When you’re the man of the house. You don’t know what that’s like.
“You don’t know what it’s like when you get pulled over by a police officer and the conversation doesn’t even start off right. That’s something you must think about,” Blue continued. “The conversation must start off right to end up right. And social media has made it a whole ‘nother world because we see what happens now in real time. We don’t have to wait to see it. It’s real. It’s right then. It’s right there. It’s sad what happened to the police officers. That’s really, really sad. Cause that young man’s family is grieving for them for what their son did. His family’s not happy with what he did. We’re not happy with what he did. But we’re not happy with what the two police officers did earlier in the week either. And this is a conversation that must be had openly.”
Blue spoke about the media reporting how blacks kill blacks but ignore that more than 80 percent of whites that are killed are killed by other whites. At the end of the day, however, he just wants everyone to be able to go home at night.
“Just like they want the police officers to come home, you want to finally come home. You want all of them to come home so you want all of our young men to come home. It’s not a one-sided thing,” he said. “And black lives do matter cause we been being killed a long time. So this is nothing new. We’re just seeing it now, and we’re seeing more of it. Over 500 people have been killed this year by police in the United States. Over 500. And this is just July. What’s the number gonna be in December?”
Bostic used the LGBT community as an example of a group of people coming together for a larger cause and using their resources to get things done.
“They marched, they picketed, they did all of those things that black folks do, but you know what else they did? Collectively, they put their money in sustained power. They financed their agenda, and they got on the books,” he said. “That’s the big reason why uncle Jimmy can marry uncle Tommy. That’s the reason why that happened. We can say whatever we want. Whatever you want your Bible to say about those folks, that’s fine. That’s not my business. But what I’m talking about is the strategy of getting things done. That’s what we need.
“There has to be a representative in each community that’s not afraid to call you and knock on some doors and try and get some teammates to stand with them. We’re all a team.”
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674 and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.