Peaceful activists seek accountability, renewed trust from police
A dignified, yet determined, activist group marched on the Rock Hill Police Department Saturday, calling for greater accountability from the city and delivering a list of demands the group says will help increase communication and understanding between law enforcement and the black community.
Spurred by the recent shooting deaths by police of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, a 12-strong group of adult professionals called the Concerned Black Men of the City of Rock Hill, marched down Dave Lyle Boulevard downtown to the police department Saturday afternoon to deliver a two-page letter addressed to Police Chief Chris Watts. The letter contained 10 demands the group says the department needs to respond to within the next 30 days.
Among the demands, the group is seeking to attain all data on use of force by the police department for the past five years, schedule a monthly public forum with Watts, and have law enforcement cease all patrols using vehicles without visible police markings, radar equipment and/or video equipment.
"We're hoping for true transparency in what's going on in the city, as a whole," said group member Johnathan Montgomery. "We really want the same equality across the board."
Local leaders include Rock Hill natives Bradford Rawlinson, a local lawyer, and Cedric Caldwell, an Iraq war hero. The men say they're seeking an open dialogue on how the department patrols predominantly black neighborhoods, as well as how officers are trained in the use of force.
By collecting data and sitting down with authority figures on a regular basis, Rawlinson said the minority community can help establish a better bond with police.
"The mission and the vision statements for the (Rock Hill Police Department) say they want to build trust in the community," said Rawlinson. "And I think they've failed in that job. It's important, because this has to do with life-and-death situations. We feel any time is the right time to bring change."
To that end, a small group of citizens gathered in the parking lot of the Wells Fargo bank on East Main Street around 2 pm Saturday, before marching the short distance to the Rock Hill Law Center. Several activists stood at attention for about 20 minutes in front of the building while Montgomery and fellow group member A.B. Cathcart waited to deliver the letter of demands.
They were met by an officer, who accepted the letter and shook hands with both men.
"We would stay out there all night, if we had to," said Caldwell. "We had to do what we had to do. Today was a success."
Now, the focus turns to the future. The group intends on pressing the department to consider and answer its grievances in a timely manner. The letter states that the group is "in the process of developing aggressive strategies, should the RHPD fail to demonstrate that our safety and trust is a foremost concern."
Rather than be viewed as "anti-police," Montgomery is hoping to heal wounds in a constructive, positive avenue.
Montgomery says many black citizens are concerned about how police operate in different neighborhoods of the city. They worry about the possibility of another high-profile shooting, such as the recent deaths of Castile in Minnesota, who was shot by an officer during a traffic stop, or of Sterling, who died after multiple gun shots fired by Baton Rouge, La. police officers.
“As concerned members of the community," the letter states, "we can no longer sit idly in the shadows of complacency as law enforcement across the country continues to use deadly violence against us."
Montgomery says he is a licensed gun owner, but does not carry his firearm because he doesn't want to "complicate a situation." That's not fair to him, he says, nor to other legal gun owners who feel they can be unfairly targeted by the color of their skin.
"At some point, if we realize that more than one person's screaming 'Fire!' there has to be a fire there," said Montgomery. "We're not rabble-rousers. We have a voice. When we cast our votes, we want it to count for something."
To view the letter the group delivered to the Rock Hill Police Department go to http://bit.ly/rhpddemands