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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Race still an issue in Worcester County

In 2015, can we have an honest conversation about race relations in Worcester County?
In a recent letter to the editor (Bayside Gazette, Jan. 1) Ocean Pines Police Chief David Massey wrote, “America’s police are some of the most educated, professionally trained and highly regulated police officers in the world. I never cease to wonder at the dedication and selflessness of our sons and daughters who have volunteered for public service in a profession that, at times, is under-appreciated.”
I whole-heartedly agree.  But that’s only part of a much larger story.  
Chief Massey continued by noting that “some of our highest elected officials create an atmosphere that fosters distrust of our police.”
Indeed, distrust is the key. But that distrust is not just one-sided.
We live in a society where distrust is prevalent. We tend to distrust people who do not look like us, talk like us, act like us, think like us, vote like us or worship like us. We distrust people based upon the clothes they wear, their hairstyle, their body-piercings, their age, their gender and their race.  It’s a fact of life.
If you don’t believe it, simply accompany any young African-American male into a convenience store, bank, hotel, restaurant, school, or even a church, and observe how people respond to them.  Immediately, there is a subtle – or even obvious –increase in the level of suspicion, i.e., distrust.
Chief Massey lamented a recent atmosphere of distrust of our police. Likewise, I lament a long legacy of distrust of young African-American males, which now extends to young Latino men as well.     
In the midst of this culture of distrust, Chief Massey stated it is unnecessary to “video-profile” our police by requiring the use of body cameras.  I respectfully disagree.
For those parents of black and Latino teenagers who are profiled daily throughout our society – consciously or subconsciously – Chief Massey’s “business as usual” approach is less than adequate.
 Law enforcement officials are public servants whose salaries are paid by local taxpayers who have a right to know that the law is being uniformly applied.  Requiring law enforcement officials to wear body cameras is no more an indictment on the integrity and professionalism of the majority of police officers than the use of radar cameras are an indictment against law abiding drivers.  
But here’s the real argument in favor of utilizing body cameras by law enforcement officials. An increased level of suspicion – distrust – toward young men of color in a convenience store, a bank, a hotel, a restaurant, a school, or even a church can be disheartening, demoralizing, degrading, and demeaning. But in the arena of policing an increased level of suspicion or distrust toward young men of color can be deadly.  
Perhaps in an ironic way, police officers and young men of color now share a similar experience – the experience of being distrusted. Perhaps that’s precisely where the conversation needs to begin right here in Worcester County.
Yes, our police officers and law enforcement officials need to be treated with the utmost respect. Likewise, society needs to treat our African-American and Latino fathers and sons, nephews and grandsons not with an increased level of suspicion and distrust, but with the same respect that all people deserve, regardless of the color of their skin, or the color of their uniform.  
The Rev. Gregg Knepp
Ocean Pines