Pelham forum addresses deadly encounters with law enforcement

By NATHAN HOWELL | Special to the Reporter 

PELHAM – With several deadly encounters between minority individuals and law enforcement weighing heavily on the nation, residents of Pelham gathered for a citywide forum on Sunday, June 28, to bring city officials, law enforcement and citizens together to discuss how to avoid these situations.

The event called “Standing United for Progress,” was held at the Pelham Civic Complex, and was organized by Kenneth Paschal of the Alabama Family Rights Association in cooperation with city officials to allow residents of Pelham to make their voices heard on how they perceive what is going on nationally and addressing it on a local scale.

“If we can focus on what we can do to alleviate the tension or deadly encounters for the people who live and shop in Pelham, we can deal with any other issues,” Paschal began.

Prior to the forum, Paschal asked community members to take the “Be the Change Survey” which was designed with a series of questions to understand what the community would like to see happen to limit deadly encounters.

The results of the survey said that citizens believe better parenting and teaching respect is how they can enact change in their lives. For police officers, responders suggested things like deescalation training, tracking officers with a pattern of bad behavior and transparency through the use of cameras.

During the forum there was a “Walk in Our Shoes” panel that featured male and female members of different racial communities, law enforcement and city officials. The panelists discussed their interactions with polices officers, as well as how they experienced racism and discrimination in their lives.

Pelham Police Chief Pat Cheatwood was invited to be part of the panel. He said that the most important way to limit deadly or tense encounters with citizens is through communication.

Mayor Gary Waters spoke at the event, explaining that he holds all city officials to a higher standard and said that the city “should be striving to rid once and for all, all disparities between races.”

The forum was an opportunity for the community to come together and try to create solutions in an otherwise tumultuous environment. Despite the threat of COVID-19, and the deadly shootings seen across the national news the local community had an opportunity to air their grievances and present real solutions.

“Our country is in turmoil right now,” Paschal said. “But turmoil is part of life. We are going to weather the storm and do it the right way, we are going to set the standard for the entire country to follow.”

On July 6, Paschal will present the results of the survey to the Pelham City Council, so that they can take the results of forum and the survey attempt to make real change in the community.