SUNRISE, FLA. (WSVN) - Hundreds of community members attended a town hall meeting held by South Florida leaders in hopes of improving relations between law enforcement and the public, Thursday night.
Hope and healing are the two words centered around a discussion at the Faith Center, along Northwest 95th Avenue, in Sunrise. 7News, along with the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Faith Center partnered to work toward a solution to increased tensions after police-involved shootings across the nation.
About 750 civilians and law enforcement officers sat side by side as they told their stories and shared their concerns. “I can share with you that mothers, speaking for myself who is a mother of a son, we’re afraid,” said one woman. “We don’t know what police officer is going to show up.”
The head of the church, Bishop Henry Fernandez, told a story of his own encounter with a police officer. “The first thing the police officer said to me, ‘Boy, give me your license and registration,'” Fernandez said. “Now, I agree with you, a 16-year-old who doesn’t have a dad in the home, you are going to cause a problem. Now as a pastor, a law abiding citizen, of course I wanted to go home. I wanted to live.”
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel did acknowledge that law enforcement officers make mistakes and need to do better. “Don’t judge law enforcement by the police misconduct a few have committed. It’s not right, and it’s not fair,” he said. “It’s my job and Chief Brooks’ job and the other command staff in law enforcement’s job to make sure that we don’t judge our community by the misdeeds of a few, and that’s how we’ll get together.”
Members of Congress also joined in the discussion, giving a federal feel to what has become a national discussion. “At the federal level, what we need to do is address mass incarceration, because we have the highest rate of incarceration in the entire world,” said Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
“When a person dies at the hands of a police officer or in a jail, that the FDLE can come in independent of the people in the local community,” said Florida Representative Alcee Hastings.
The comments and the questions reflected real lives and real experiences. “You don’t know what it’s like to be a black man until you walk in the shoes of a black man,” said one man.
Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein offered a blunt criticism. “Law enforcement acts differently in poor, black neighborhoods,” he said.
The forum also addressed a lack of trust in law enforcement.
“I do not trust law enforcement,” said Judith Laurent, who attended the event with her daughter. “We shouldn’t really be fearful of them because right now a dire fear exists.”
Many other attendees echoed Laurent’s sentiments and shared hopes to find some sort of clarity in the haze of things.
Coach Clifford Knight brought his team to open their minds to a potential solution. “I wanted them to know that this opportunity is here for you,” he said.
Many parents also brought their children simply to teach them how to interact with officers. “Comply, comply, comply,” said Rojeana Calloway. “Even if you think that officer is wrong to the wrongest, just comply and complain afterwards.”
While those in attendance are aware that a solution will not be found in one night, many believe that this is a step in the right direction of rebuilding trust in the community.
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