BREVARD COUNTY — The Push Back Community Alliance hosted an open forum June 19 in an effort to bring the community together.
The forum discussed the much-talked about movement Black Lives Matter and brought city managers, police chiefs and faith leaders together to discuss how the leaders of Brevard County are handling certain situations.
The forum was presented live on social media and is available for viewing on the Push Back Community Alliance Facebook page and the New Shiloh Christian Center YouTube page.
The event also fell on the celebrated holiday Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.
Although President Abraham Lincoln declared the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, and it became official in January of 1863, it took two and a half years for the news to reach the rest of the country. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that Major General Gordon Granger rode to Galveston, Texas and announced that the enslaved were free.
New Shiloh Christian Center Bishop Jacquelyn Gordon opened up the event with a video recorded from the June 9 city of Titusville meeting.
In the video, Titusville City Councilman Robert Jordan shared a powerful speech about why Black lives matter.
“We all say that we’re Christians,” Councilman Jordan said in the video. “This country was built on Christian principles, yet we cannot remember the most important principle of all: to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and body, and the second, to love your neighbor as yourself. I’m your neighbor.
He continued, “...One of the things I remember in elementary school was the Preamble of the Constitution. It’s 52 words, and I don’t believe we can get through it because it says, ‘We the people of the United States.’ That’s me. That means all citizens. ‘Establish justice,’ that begins with fairness for everyone, and remember, we’re not asking for any favors. We’re just asking to be equal.”
Councilman Jordan ended his message with this profound thought, “When we say Black lives matter, we’re asking you a question, does my life matter?”
Push Back Community Alliance member Christopher Griffin then performed John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Bill Wither’s “Lean on Me” before handing the microphone to Brevard County retired Judge Ali Majeed.
Judge Majeed began his speech with the importance of a united country, and how with George Floyd’s cries to his mother, those words should have touched the hearts and souls of every American.
Today, Judge Majeed continued, many Americans are denied their full measure of freedom. Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery can’t enjoy the freedom to sleep peacefully in their own home or go for a jog in the neighborhood.
“The Black man has never waged war in America,” Judge Majeed said. “The Black man did not bomb Pearl Harbor. The Black man did not bring down the Twin Towers. Indeed, the Black man has been loyal and patriotic and fought for America in all of America’s wars. Imagine then, the depth and degree of his pain, then for hundreds of years, he’s perceived at home as America’s enemy.”
City managers Lisa Morrell (Palm Bay), Scott Morgan (West Melbourne) and Shannon Lewis (Melbourne) tackled questions posed to them such as, when mapping out a city’s budget, what criteria do they need to see to help Black communities and how to confront false assumptions.
“That budget is really a document that the public can look at to see where dollars go and what the priorities of that particular city are,” said Melbourne City Manager Shannon Lewis. “The city of Melbourne... we look at those things that are critical, and one of the things I look at with my staff is, what are the most important things we have to fund, what are we here for as a government?”
The Brevard County Sheriff, Melbourne, West Melbourne and Palm Bay Police Chiefs were also on the panel and addressed issues such as how do they reduce racial profiling, prepare for de-escalating a situation over protecting oneself, budgeting for body cameras and sensitivity training.
“We monitor what our deputies are doing,” Sheriff Wayne Ivey said. “We look at all aspects of it; how many arrests they make that perhaps have resisting involved in it, what types of complaints we get, anything of that nature that might be a red flag.”
West Melbourne Police Chief Richard Wiley said, “We have body cams on every officer, we have in-car videos in every car, so every stop is tracked. In addition to that, we conduct what is known as a bias-free policing analysis report, and it breaks down by rates who’s been stopped. To give you a snapshot in West Melbourne, 71% is White, 5.7% is Black, 10% Hispanic, 7.9% is Asian and 0.4% Native American.”
Melbourne Police Chief David Gillespie added, “I know there’s a lot of uncertainty, there’s a lot of distrust with law enforcement, and so our hope is to be able to start to build in small pieces that trust back together again. One of the things the Sheriff said, is hiring, it’s the heart of the person you bring into the agency.
“We utilize direct patrols, we base our proactive response in our patrol division based on citizen complaints,” Chief Gillespie continued. “It’s important that when people call or send an email about an issue in a certain area, we track that and then we send our officers out and make sure that they actually document that they were out there. It doesn’t just put us on a random patrol in any certain neighborhood, it gives us a purpose.”
Palm Bay Chief Nelson Moya said, “We also have a yearly report that captures everything our staff does from every stop to every arrest to every use of force. We break that down to see what people look like that we’re stopping, arresting.
“We can’t ultimately know what’s in the heart, and that’s where for me, the most important concept comes into play, and that is the concept of leadership,” Chief Moya continued. “We talk about leadership and the development and implementation of what your culture looks like, and how do you define your agency and the delivery of service. I think that is where the crux of the issue really lies. In our organization we invest a tremendous amount of energy and resources into developing quality leadership.”
This is just one of many future open discussions to come, according to Bishop Gordon.