Southern Burlington County NAACP to host Law Enforcement Roundtable Aug. 16

Attendees will meet with local law enforcement agencies to discuss relations between police and black communities.

“There is power in communication.”

That’s how Marcus Sibley, communications chair for the Southern Burlington County NAACP, described his organization’s upcoming Law Enforcement Roundtable scheduled for Aug. 16.

The event will take place during the organization’s next general meeting at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Moorestown, with the conversation focusing on local relations between police and black communities.

Guests are set to include Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina, Burlington County Police Chiefs’ Association President William Eliason, as well as chiefs of police or other police representatives from Cinnaminson, Evesham, Lumberton, Maple Shade, Medford, Medford Lakes, Moorestown, Mt. Laurel, Palmyra and Riverton.

Representatives for Bass River, Shamong, Tabernacle and Washington Township (Burlington County), which are patrolled by the State Police, are also invited.

“The purpose of the event is for law enforcement to have a seat at our table,” Sibley said. “That’s the first thing. So often, everything is on their terms or their turf. We wanted to have a conversation at our table.”

In turn, with so many different law enforcement agencies having accepted the SBC NAACP’s invitation, Sibley said the agencies have shown good faith toward the purpose of the event.

“We’re absolutely appreciative,” Sibley said.

As for the details of what topics might be discussed by members of the SBC NAACP or other people of color on Aug, 16, Sibley said attendees shouldn’t expect some “great epiphany.”

Sibley touched on often repeated topics concerning police relations with black communities, such as police using excessive force, the need for more training to help police de-escalate situations, departments that might not be hiring African Americans or officers who might be targeting individuals based on the color of their skin.

“We don’t want preferential treatment — we just want fair treatment,” Sibley said. “If I ran a light, I want the same treatment that a white person or anyone else gets for running a light. I shouldn’t have to fear death because I’m in a car and I’m getting pulled over. That’s a problem, and many people of color have that fear anytime they drive a car.”

By inviting the law enforcement representatives to sit among members of the SBC NAACP and other residents, Sibley said his organization hopes to provide people of color with a forum where the discussion remains on the issues and their underlying causes, rather than focusing of people’s reaction to an issue once it’s already occurred.

“When you’re hurt and your emotions take over, people tend to focus on your reactions as the problem,” Sibley said. “If a person is hurting, if they were stopped unlawfully, or they were assaulted, or there’s been injustice — when you react, people focus on the reaction, and they don’t pay attention to why that person is reacting that way.”

For those who can’t attend the roundtable on Aug. 16, Sibley said the SBC NAACP would have arrangements in place to stream the event online.

Those interested are encouraged to “like” the SBC NAACP page on www.facebook.com/sbcnjnaacp or visit www.sbcnaacp.org for streaming updates.

Sibley is also hoping to reach those constituents within the SBC NAACP’s jurisdiction who shared concerns that members of law enforcement won’t be affected by the event.

“There is power in communication,” Sibley said. “No matter what you may feel, no matter what you have been taught, when I have a chance to have a conversation with you, that conversation can break down even long-lasting stigmas and stereotypes. Of course it’s optimistic, but I believe a conversation is better than not having a conversation.”

Sibley also said he hopes that in time, he or perhaps other members of the SBC NAACP can become a greater resource for local law enforcement to help them respond to racial issues, especially to help prevent a controversy that might attract widespread protests and national media scrutiny.

“No township is immune,” Sibley said. “It can happen anywhere, and we want them to understand that we have to pay attention to our policing practices.”

The SBC NAACP’s Law Enforcement Roundtable will take place on Thursday, Aug. 16, at 7:15 p.m. at Bethel A.M.E. Church, 512 N. Church St. in Moorestown.