RACINE — Scott Terry had a question: What can we do to make people safe when there is interaction between the police and young African-American men?
It was a question forged from a lifetime of personal experience and amplified in recent history with the shooting deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and the suffocation of Eric Garner in New York.
Terry, 40, of Racine, asked area leaders to take time out of their Wednesday night to participate in a panel discussion called “The Survival Series” to talk about their jobs, field questions from the audience, receive feedback from the public and brainstorm solutions. They all agreed to help.
“It’s really an outlet for what’s going on,” said Terry, who organized the event. “The community and law enforcement need to be more educated about one another and more engaged with one another. A lot of time there’s a disconnect for a variety of reasons.”
About 40 people filled the Buhler Room of the Lakefront Branch YMCA, 725 Lake Ave., on Wednesday evening as leaders from law enforcement, public safety and education participated in the discussion.
Participating were: Pete Payne, Mount Pleasant Police officer; Carmen Lassiter, Wisconsin public defender; Kevin Brown, former Racine-area educator and current principal at Cherokee Heights Middle School in Madison; R.L. Woods, Racine Police chaplain; Art Howell, Racine Police chief; Tonya Scarver, Racine Police detective; and Eric Prybylski, Racine Police officer.
Ahmad Qawi, chief operations officer at the Racine Family YMCA, moderated the evening’s questions.
When Qawi asked a question about police shootings, Chief Howell told a recent story of how his officers peacefully resolved a situation involving the potential for deadly force.
Howell told the audience the story how two of his police offers, who happened to be white, responded to a shooting on Jan. 21 at the Corinne Owens Transit Center involving two teenagers, who happened to be black – and armed.
“One officer got a gun away from him without force. A second kid put his hand on his gun and could have been shot,” Howell told the audience. “But the officers waited long enough for the kid to throw the gun into the river.”
Qawi also asked why Wisconsin was one of the worst states for raising African-American children. Brown shared his experience as a principal in Racine.
“Wisconsin is a very progressive state with a college on almost every corner; however everyone is not benefiting from it,” Brown said. “When I was vice principal of Horlick High School and I would go to AP courses, which kids can get college credit in high school for free, they were all-white.”
Brown went on to say that everything goes back to education. “If you do not have your education, you cannot even stand in line to become a police officer. You can’t even stand in line to be told ‘no.’ Eventually, all you need is one ‘yes.’ ”
Woods spoke about his time growing up in Chicago and how the church played a vital role in the health of the community around him.
“We didn’t have African-American therapists, we didn’t have psychiatrists, we didn’t go to psychology centers to find resolutions to our issues,” he said. “It was the church that was the main force that many came to try to find solutions to their problems. When there’s a major breakdown and an exodus in many churches I also see that exodus in moral values.”