Coalition on Race Asks South Orange to Adopt Resolution on Ferguson, MO

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South Orange Trustees said Monday night that they would be interested in drafting a joint resolution with Maplewood promoting pro-integrative policies and proactive community policing — in response to a request from the South Orange-Maplewood Community Coalition on Race to pass a resolution condemning the actions of law enforcement in Ferguson, MO regarding the shooting death of Michael Brown.

However, Trustees rejected the proposed language of the resolution as drafted by Coalition Chair Fred Profeta, who is also a former mayor of Maplewood.

“My reaction is that although I appreciate the effort to address a very serious problem, I’m very disappointed in this resolution,” said Village President Alex Torpey. “There are quite a number of other incidents that seem worthwhile talking about as well. I notice more and more these days, we’re reacting to tragedies focusing on stories of one particular tragedy instead of focusing on root causes — as you mentioned.”

Coalition Executive Director Nancy Gagnier presented the proposed resolution to the South Orange Board of Trustees on November 10. Gagnier presented it to the Maplewood Township Committee at its Oct. 21 meeting.

The proposed resolution reads as follows:

Be it resolved by the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race that:

The events which occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, in August of 2014 have been deeply troubling to all people of good will in this country.  The South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race finds these events to be particularly disturbing because they represent precisely the type of racial injustice that we find to be enormously offensive and which we have fought so hard to counter since the time of our inception.  Because Maplewood and South Orange are communities which aspire to be places where the events in Ferguson would never occur, the Coalition requests that the South Orange Board of Trustees and the Maplewood Township Committee adopt resolutions which condemn:

1.  The repugnant killing of an unarmed black male teenager, and

2.  The militaristic over-reaction of the Ferguson police force to the public protest in violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees.

In introducing the draft resolution, Gagnier spoke of the work of the CCR and the integrative strategies implemented in Maplewood and South Orange, including: fair lending practices, neighborhood associations, a fair housing ordinance, representative leadership in government and civic associations, activities that support an integrative culture and that allow people to build relationships across racial and cultural divides, honest conversations about race, and teaching and police steps that reflect the community.

“The resolution doesn’t really do a service to the CCR or this community because it is a very generic reaction,” said Torpey. “It doesn’t address that this is an issue that we have grappled with and done an almost revolutionary job of doing better than most.”

Torpey added, “It’s very easy to condemn a tragedy. It’s a little harder to figure out what to do.” Torpey said that he would like to work with the Coalition “to figure out how we can respond as a community. It doesn’t do enough and in not doing enough it seems to do a disservice to the issue.”

“I’d like to sit down and talk about how we make sure it doesn’t happen here and how we can help it not happen again there.”

Trustee Walter Clarke said that he was in agreement with Torpey, calling the resolution “largely symbolic.”

Clarke echoed remarks made by Torpey about the work of the South Orange Police Department, saying that he also wanted to give a “shout out” to the South Orange police “because I know they have been doing community outreach programs. I wouldn’t want to see this as a preemptive knock against our police department.”

Trustee Sheena Collum also wanted to call attention to the work of the South Orange Police Department. “I have one concern,” she said and talked about “creeping anti police sentiment.” Collum added, “I’m very proud of our police department.” She said that she would look for a way to “tie this resolution to the overall policing that we have in these towns with really great officers who understand our diversity.”

Trustee Mark Rosner pointed out the police department’s work with youth — in particular in dealing successfully with a wave of flash mobs several years ago without resorting to mass arrests.

Deborah Davis Ford said that she would “like to be at that table” to discuss “a holistic approach and recognize some of the great work that our two communities have done.” Davis Ford said she was glad that the CCR had started this conversation but she agreed that the resolution as written was “not good enough.”

Gagnier noted that when Fred Profeta and the CCR put the resolution together, they “saw it as a suggested wording, not necessarily the resolution you should pass.”

Collum suggested that Maplewood and South Orange work together on a joint resolution. The Trustees agreed and also felt that the resolution should not refer to Ferguson or any one particular town or incident but should focus on the positive integrative strategies that have been successful in South Orange and Maplewood.

Ultimately, the Trustees were complimentary toward the Community Coalition on Race.

“We are very fortunate to have a Coalition on Race to turn to,” said Clarke. Davis Ford said, “It’s so easy to ignore the elephant in the room, and the CCR allows us to have that discussion.”

“We look to the CCR for guidance,” said Torpey. “We appreciate this being brought to our attention. The best thing that we can do is tell our story…. We appreciate all the work that you guys have done.”

In the video of the meeting, the presentation by the CCR starts at about 1:05:30. Torpey’s remarks begin at 1:13:10.

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