West Point city leaders and a group of concerned residents agreed to meet and talk about issues Monday night after about 100 men, women and children marched on City Hall in protest of the police department.
“We’re trying to make a statement,” said Christy Henderson, who organized the group. She presented a petition with about 400 signatures to West Point City Council on Monday night and said the residents had formed a group, West Point Residents Fight Back.
“The police are harassing us,” she said. “They are targeting the black neighborhoods.”
Henderson said if residents gather on their porches, police say they’re guilty of having a “disorderly house.” Children in the neighborhood are being stopped by police and told not to run because it makes the youths look suspicious.
“I grew up in the housing projects and I’ve never known a child to be told not to run or it would make them be suspect,” she said.
She told council there are people who do wrong in every neighborhood, but not everyone in her neighborhood is a “hoodlum” or selling drugs.
“I want to make this neighborhood a better place,” she said. “To ‘protect and serve’ doesn’t mean harass the black neighborhoods.”
Kelvin Tucker, another West Point resident, said he has been a victim of police harassment.
“You don’t live by honesty and integrity,” he said. “There’s not an honest officer on this force.”
The citizens’ group also is against the department having Tasers, which council is set to vote on next month after having informational sessions with residents to answer questions on the weapons’ use.
The protests come not only in the midst of the Taser talks, but after the police department asked for changes to city ordinances to allow some minor state crimes such as loitering, disorderly conduct, having an open alcoholic beverage on a public right of way and trespassing, to be prosecuted in city court. Those changes were approved Monday night after a plan to enforce a curfew was dropped.
Police Chief Jeffrey Cato, who is black, said he welcomes the questions from the residents and actually met with the group last week. He was at the council meeting Monday and heard their concerns.
“I’m always willing to take feedback, negative or positive,” he said. “Perception is reality to a lot of people and we want to address their concerns.”
Cato said he has asked the group to come to neighborhood watch meetings, which are held in the housing authority once a month.
“We only have five or six people show up,” he said. “I can’t inform five or six people on anything.”
Mayor Drew Ferguson IV said he appreciated the group coming forward and said there was a need for better communication between the residents and police.
“We’re making a commitment to work with you,” he said.
Jennifer Shrader can be reached at email@example.com or 706-884-7311, Ext. 236.