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Recap of Racial Profiling Community Meeting & Proposed Meeting

Decatur Heights Neighborhood Watch block captain recaps the March 30 Racial Profiling Meeting that was attended by approximately 70 people.

Courtesy Jeremy Woodhouse/Getty Images
Courtesy Jeremy Woodhouse/Getty Images
Editor's note: The following is a Letter to the Editor about a recent meeting centered on a late 2013 alleged racial profiling incident involving the Decatur Police Department. The letter is from Decatur resident Deanne Thomas and she can be reached at deanneindecaturheights@yahoo.com.


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.

Proposed Meeting:

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.

Sincerely,

Deanne Thomas

(Decatur Heights Neighborhood Watch block captain and Citizens' Police Academy Class 20 graduate)

Decaturette April 08, 2014 at 03:35 PM
Nice account. One other item I'd add: for 3 of the 5 men who reported profiling, they were in their own neighborhood, close to, or at, the home that they reside in. (Mr. Nathaniel and his wife rent from his in-laws, I believe). So they were someplace that they feel comfortable and their guard was down, making the profiling all the more unfortunate. Meredith Gordon's comment that he was just thinking about what a great neighborhood he lived in was particularly poignant. He has a daughter--what does he tell her? Some people think he looks like he doesn't belong there? Right there in their own community where she walks to school everyday? What about her--does she look like she doesn't belong there too?
Octo Slash April 09, 2014 at 08:33 AM
It's too bad the police don't ever detain and question some white males when witnesses tell them a black male committed the crime. smh
Decaturette April 09, 2014 at 11:19 AM
Silly Octo Slash. No crimes were committed here in these examples. It's not profiling if someone meets the description (and that means age, sex, height, weight, clothing, tattoos, behavior, not just skin color) of a suspect being actively sought. It's profiling if someone is stopped who would not be stopped if everything else were the same, but the skin color was white. It's inefficient use of police time and disrespectful to law-abiding residents of a neighborhood.
Richard "the Equalizer" Pellegrino April 09, 2014 at 12:13 PM
Nice report Deanne and thanks for sharing. In Cobb where I reside we (the Cobb United for Change Coalition and Cobb Immigrant Alliance) have a good working relationship with the Cobb County Police Department and other police departments, where they meet with us regularly, open their books on arrests and even unsolved crime reports (broken down by race), discuss citizen complaints, and work in many ways together to prevent racial profiling and treat everyone with equity. We recently sponsored Healing Racism workshops and over 25 public safety personnel attended, including top brass. We have seen marked progress in the couple of years that we took this more conciliatory rather than confrontational approach.
Deanne April 11, 2014 at 09:49 AM
Decaturette and Richard, thanks for weighing in. (Thanks to Octo Slash too, although I'm not quite sure I've grasped your point.) Decaturette's and Richard's comments emphasize the importance of how we engage as neighbors with each another and as residents with our police officers. As hectic as life is, getting to know neighbors often becomes one of those things you keep meaning to get to, but... think about it: Could you identify by sight all of the folks in each residence on your street? The next street? Two streets over? For most of us that would be a real challenge. And to expect our police officers to recognize everyone in a community of 20,000 plus? It seems very unrealistic even as an aspirational goal. That's where community policing-- probably better described as community partnering-- comes in. By building relationships among neighbors block-by-block and through active participation in the Neighborhood Watch and other community programs offered by DPD, the bonds between neighbors and with DPD will strengthen. We're very fortunate in City of Decatur to have Decatur Police leadership that regularly seeks out opportunities to engage with the community. The DPD's standard of CPR-- courtesy, professionalism, and respect-- is embraced by police officers throughout the department. (Even in concerns relayed at the March 30 meeting, there was only one incident where the officer's demeanor was questioned.) Where we all need to strive to get to is where every resident feels equally comfortable within our community. To accomplish it, it'll require a willingness to take the leap of faith that we all share the same goal.

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