Gretna UMC hosts open conversation on relations between police and community

July 25, 2016
The call was simple; gather together and talk. It’s exactly what happened at Gretna United Methodist Church as members, pastors and police gathered to discuss the recent string of violent incidents involving police and the community. 

Rev. Bertrand Griffin II called it an open conversation on “how we can stand together.” 

One by one, concerns were expressed as members of the African-American community remain fearful of the police. 

“I do not trust the police,” said Shawanda Leggins, a member of Gretna United Methodist Church and a mother of six.

"I have seen them do things that should have never happened. In fact, my son was targeted just today. He was stopped as he was walking down the sidewalk. The officer apparently decided he was not the person he was looking for, yet the officer followed him another three blocks.”

Larry Dyess, a captain with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department, said he understands how the black community feels mistreated by police. He told the crowd of 50 there are no justifications for episodes of victimization. “However, I do want to communicate that officers are also victimized,” he said. “We have to feel safe and that may mean different treatments in different situations.”

Dyess continued by saying officers of the law need more cultural diversity training, lamenting that mistakes made by law enforcement can and sometimes do result in death. 

"Police are not racists," he said. "Do we have individual officers that are? Maybe, but you cannot judge the entire department by the actions of one officer any more than we can judge the entire community based on the actions of one citizen."

Ken Jones has spent over 30 years in the media and now serves as a media consultant. He said the media is one of the large underlying reasons so many people remain on edge. “Our news is so instant and so sensationalized that it keeps us in a continual state of stress.” he said. “Once these stories are in the media, it fans the flames of aggression for many.”

As frustrations and fears were shared, Rev. Griffin couldn’t help but see God at work during the brief time together. “Relationships were forged out of very hard and necessary truths being spoken. They are destined to continue and there is evidence of that,” he said. “I saw the big bang happen and the stardust is still in the room. Where it goes from here, only God knows. However, I believe it's the beginning of something beautiful!”

That beautiful something will continue Aug. 2 at 6:30 p.m. when the topic is explored again at Gretna United Methodist, 1309 Whitney Ave. in Gretna.