Local law enforcement became the highlight of a community forum Wednesday night in Sacramento that tried to make sense of the shooting of a teenager and the subsequent clashes that have taken place in Missouri.
An audience of about 100 packed The Guild Theater in the Oak Park neighborhood in the meeting aimed at “preventing another Ferguson,” said Steven Webb, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which organized the event with Mayor Kevin Johnson and City Councilman Allen Warren. Among the audience members were about a dozen law enforcement officers, county elected officials and community members.
The forum follows the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and the subsequent increased scrutiny of the Ferguson region’s police for using aggressive tactics against protesters.
The organizers brought together a panel of black-led nonprofit groups, the Sacramento Police Department, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol and faith-based groups to field questions about public safety in the region.
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Johnson opened the forum with an address that highlighted what he called staggering numbers illustrating the lack of diversity in law enforcement, especially in leadership positions.
Sacramento Police Chief Sam Somers Jr.acknowledged the imbalance in the Police Department, further citing that incarceration rates of ethnic minorities, namely blacks, were “way too high.”
“If we’re not hitting the mark, we need to adjust and hear from you,” he said to the audience.
Organizers and community members hoped to take advantage of a time when “nothing is going on,” to discuss the public distrust of police officers and other law enforcement agencies.
A common theme in Wednesday night’s discussion was the need to diversify the workforce in law enforcement, but others hoped to shed light on the need for more ethnic minorities in all areas of employment.
The Rev. Anthony Sadler of Sadler Baptist Church, one of the panelists, said, “We need to get out there and reach out to our young people. They need more opportunities for employment.”
While the discussion focused on young people, there was criticism from the audience that the meeting lacked the voice of teens. Young protesters outside the theater called for a meeting that included area teens.
Ladauwa Suggs, 21, asked, “Why are there no youth up there? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
In response to the criticism about lack of young people participating in the panel, the mayor said that this is the first of many more meetings and that next time, “hopefully we can move to a larger venue.”