Decatur-Avondale Estates Patch readers,
As an attendee of the March 30 Racial Profiling Meeting, I want to offer my take and propose a follow-up meeting to include Decatur Police (DPD) and the entire community.
First, my take:
The meeting organized by the recently formed Profiling Decatur group was well attended-- 65-70 folks, mostly black and white and with a good range of ages represented. The mood seemed fairly positive with everyone there to hear the men's accountings and a “Know Your Rights” presentation, and then discuss how to best bring about any needed changes. Rex Kaney, a retired minister, did a good job as the meeting's facilitator. Unfortunately, there was a stated goal going in to pursue formal action that stunted the community discussion part. Don Denard politely but firmly rejected two attendees' suggestions that holding another meeting with all parties at the table would be the more cooperative and less confrontational way to go. Hopefully, the Profiling Decatur group has given it some more thought and is now receptive to the idea.
As for the accountings, there was some sarcasm interwoven in the older guys' tellings-- understandable since they feel they were profiled. Terry LeCount told of having been stopped near the Agnes Scott tennis courts early one morning while he was walking and killing time waiting for a fitness group he leads to start. The officer asked if he could speak with him for a minute. Mr. LeCount, knowing he'd done nothing wrong, said, “Sure.” The officer then said, “You fit the description of someone we're looking for.” Mr. LeCount told of how he was surprised by this as he feels he's a pretty well known guy around the community; however, he calmly responded to the officer, “We can go to my truck marked City Schools of Decatur and you can see my license.” Mr. LeCount also named several highly regarded local folks and asked if the officer knew them. Once his identity was established, Mr. LeCount said, “How did I do?” The officer replied with, “How did I do?” and Mr. LeCount said, “Fine, Officer.” Because of how upset the ladies in Mr. LeCount's fitness group were after hearing of the incident, the next day he went to see the receptionist at Agnes Scott to share what had happened. The receptionist confirmed that DPD had indeed been looking for someone. Another older guy, “Joel,” told of two incidents. (Due to concerns over what he shared, I followed up with a citizen who “Joel” had named in one incident. For me, “Joel’s” stories are questionable.) As for Don Denard's accounting, it's troubling that Mr. Denard all but dropped providing the factors that went into Investigator Hall's conclusion that a burglary may have occurred. (I also noticed it during his second Commission Meeting appearance when he omitted some elements he'd included during his first appearance that, when added together, made for a solid basis for her to have had him stopped.) At the March 30 meeting, Mr. Denard began by saying, “Most of you know what happened by now,” then he gave a very condensed accounting that basically said Investigator Hall spotted him out of the corner of her eye leaving his driveway wearing dark clothing and she went on to discover his back door open. Mr. Denard ended it with, "She must've seen a squirrel out of the corner of her eye." (He got a kick out of the laughter it drew and included it two more times.)
The younger men who told their stories came across as, above all, wanting it to lead to a positive outcome. In Thad Nathaniel's incident, he noticed the officer slowing his patrol car after spotting him walking down his in-laws' driveway and stopping to check the trashcan to see if it had been emptied. Mr. Nathaniel decided to proactively approach the officer and explain that he was off to do surveys which led to the officer requesting to see his permit, a requirement for door-to-door canvassing. Nicholas Wynn's accounting was of him and his friend being in a borrowed white cargo van and having been spotted by an officer at Brower St, then followed and stopped outside the city limits. Although the stop seems to have been justifiable in light of a number of suspicious white van sightings reported during a rash of burglaries, Mr. Wynn and his friend do need to hear back from DPD on their filed reports (reason given was “tag light out” which Mr. Wynn said was not the case). Meredith Gordon's account was of having been stopped because a neighbor called in that he was holding a gun outside of a school. Mr. Gordon was actually carrying his silver & black trimmed coffee mug while out enjoying an early morning stroll. Although Mr. Gordon was still mystified by who and what the motives of the neighbor were, he felt his situation was appropriately handled by DPD.
The purpose of the follow-up meeting will be to foster better understanding between city residents and the Decatur Police, a necessary foundation for successful community policing. It will also allow the opportunity to revisit “Know Your Rights” and for DPD to provide information on what articulable reasonable suspicion and probable cause means.
While I'll never experience what a person of color encounters moving through this world, I can offer my willingness to try to help ensure an expanded community conversation happens-- whether it's hosted by the Profiling Decatur folks or another group of residents. Decatur-Avondale Estates Patch is welcome to supply my email address to city residents interested in pitching in on this meeting.
(Decatur Heights Neighborhood Watch block captain and Citizens' Police Academy Class 20 graduate)