Sunday, February 25, 2024

Working together: African-American churches, community & police sign covenant

Rev. Corwin Hammond is a pastor at Chickahominy Baptist Church in Toano and has been working iwth law enforcement to "maintain a relationship of respect and dignity" with the black community. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)
Rev. Corwin Hammond is a pastor at Chickahominy Baptist Church in Toano and has been working with community groups and local law enforcement to “maintain a relationship of respect and dignity.” (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)

Rev. Corwin Hammond, a man in the business of promoting peace, has a dream.

He envisions building stronger bridges between folks — not only in the African-American community and other diverse groups — but between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Strides toward this goal began last Friday. More than 200 people — faith-based leaders, local African-American community groups and area law enforcement — gathered at the Williamsburg Regional Library to sign The Historic Triangle Covenant.

The covenant aims to create a holistic approach to community policing, taking it from the streets and bringing the discussion into family living rooms and church suppers.

Hammond, pastor at Chickahominy Baptist Church in Toano, believes for this to work, it requires the effort from all parts of the community to “maintain a relationship of respect and dignity.”

Members of law enforcement, African-American community groups and residents who attended the Historic Triangle Covenant signing last Friday. (Courtesy Johnette Weaver)

But beyond the covenant’s “feel good” signing moment, Hammond said this is the launch of multi-phase endeavor to develop a frank rapport with the police, community groups and residents.

“There is so much negativity and hatred. All of the senseless acts affected me, when you see how people are hurting,” Hammond said, referring to recent national coverage of police-involved shootings.

“Why wait until something happens? Let’s do something now, so we have a framework of a conservation. I know it’s the right thing to do.”

Among some next steps for Hammond, is a call for community captains to step up and organize local meetings and work with African-American community groups to build a support network for families. He also wants to keep a dialogue open with local law enforcement.

The keys to building trust

The event drew local law enforcement representatives from James City County Police, York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office and Williamsburg Police Department, as well as public safety officials from The College of William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

The Historic Triangle Covenant. left to right: Jacqueline Bridgeforth-Williams of The Village Initative, Rev. Corwin Hammond and Jessica Carter, a board member with The Village. (Courtesy Johnette Weaver)

Hammond, who felt a spiritual calling to create this covenant roughly two years ago, sought input from James City County Chief of Police Brad Rinehimer.

Rinehimer attended the signing event last Friday. He said relationships are what matters.

“The goal of community policing is to bring every together. I think law enforcement has done a good job but we can always do better,” he said. “I’d love to have more involvement with the minority community and I thought this would be a great first step.”

Going forward, Rinehimer said police are opening the dialogue with the community and have begun meeting regularly with faith-based leaders.

“We want the community to know their police department and have that trust and comfort  level,” he said. “We don’t want kids to be afraid.”

Maj. Greg Riley of the Williamsburg Police Department said the key to any endeavor is to establish good lines of communications, in the event — hopefully not —  something does happen.

“We are all familiar with events in Ferguson,” he said, referring to the 2014 police-involved shooting of Michael Brown which occurred in Ferguson, MO. “Speaking as a police officer, we are trying to mitigate those events with … training and good supervising.”

To that end, Riley said one of the big initiatives for the department last year was to establish bias-based police training.

Williamsburg police spent $20,000 on that training, he said, to ensure police officers have the skills, including verbal, emotional, as well as physical when they are responding to calls.

“We want to make sure we do have this training and it’s always good to let the community know what we are doing,” Riley said.

Community organizations do their part

Local African-American groups on hand at last Friday’s signing included representatives from the York-James City County-Williamsburg NAACP, the Real People Educating Others group, the Black Lives Matter and The Village Initiative Inc.

Johnette Weaver, a member of The Village Initiative said a good important first step is to ensure youth in our communities understand what is going on around them.

The nonprofit was formed late last summer following the shooting death of 18-year-old Kameron Stanley in York County.

The organization began as a politically motivated group, but it has since evolved into being more education-based, she said. They want to ensure young people are educated, including learning how to make better decisions, the consequences of their actions and the police’s role.

“Because if you can get them while they are young, you don’t need to worry about them [as much] when they are teenagers,” Weaver said. “Making sure that they know police officers are there to serve them and not to be afraid of the police.”

Conversely, she added it’s important for the police to recognize possible implicit biases they may have against African-American youth.

“Just because you see the kid with his pants drooping…sagging pants and dreadlocks, doesn’t mean that they are a bad kid,” she said.

Hammond said the covenant, a idea drawn from the Bible, is a commitment.

Now the work begins to dispel the false ideas and false notions the African-American community has about police and vice-versa, he said.

“Getting the covenant signed was the easy part,” he said. “Now the move is getting into the community, knocking on doors, meeting with people and having the discussion.”

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