More than 800 miles from Clayton, in Ferguson, Mo., a police shooting of a black teenager sparked protests, riots, looting and a strong law enforcement response.
It also prompted national debate and a public conversation closer to home.
The Rev. Terrence Leathers, a Clayton pastor, said he wants to talk about the relationship between citizens and police. Communication, he said, is what’s needed to make sure that what happened in Ferguson doesn’t happen here.
“I’m trying to keep our boys and girls alive for another day,” Leathers told a crowd of more than 50 people during an Aug. 22 forum at his church, Mount Vernon Christian on North Lombard Street.
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At the forum, church members and other Clayton residents talked with a retired Wake County sheriff’s deputy about the safest way to interact with police during traffic stops and on-the-street encounters.
The retired deputy, the Rev. Vincent Price, a Williamston pastor, went through a checklist of tips but always came back to one point. “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about,” he said.
Price, a pastor at Mt. Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, said a lot of times it’s a person’s “tongue” that gets him or her in trouble with police.
“A lot of it can be avoided in interaction with law enforcement, depending on what you say and don’t say,” Price said.
Clayton Police Chief R.W. Bridges said he, too, thinks healthy communication is the key. Bridges said he was unable to attend the forum because he was helping another department pick a new police chief.
“Community policing for Clayton is a department-wide philosophy,” Bridges said, adding that he asks officers to talk with residents not only from their patrol cars but also while on foot or bike patrol. “That is designed specifically to remove that barrier of the patrol car and place them in a situation where that one-on-one interaction is frequent and encouraged.”
The Clayton Police Department has officers who meet regularly with community groups to talk about law-enforcement and other issues.
Clayton resident Jean Sandaire, who attended the Aug. 22 forum, said he wants the police to know him and his children. He said he thinks unfamiliarity is what often causes residents to distrust police.
“There’s something deeper, even before we get stopped,” Sandaire said.
Price said that during police stops, whether vehicular or on foot, it’s important to answer an officer’s questions as calmly as possible. The worst thing a person can do, he said, is ask, “What did you stop me for?”
If a citizen thinks an officer is breaking the law or infringing upon his rights, he can report that to the officer’s supervisor. Bridges said his department thoroughly investigates citizen complaints.
Bridges said while community policing is designed to enhance communication, his officers cannot possibly know every citizen on the roads.
“It’s important that people remember that,” Bridges said. “They may be great people, and they may not want to hurt anyone, but the officer doesn’t know that.”