Conversations on race continue at Palmyra open forum

Questions linger months after George Floyd’s death at hands of police.

Building on the rally which drew hundreds of citizens and held at the same location in early June, organizers of the Black Lives Matter demonstration hosted a follow-up conversation, where tough questions on race relations were broached, on Aug. 10 in Flournoy Park. From top left: Bobby Morgan, Judy Belton, Borough Councilwoman Farrah Jenkins, Nazir Throckmorton and Eric Robinson. From bottom left, Jim Quinn, Kacia King, Chloe Edwards, Chloe King and Kaya Robinson.

Almost three months since the death of George Floyd, many communities are still coming to grips with its implications. 

Uncomfortable questions still linger in the divide between Black and white, between those who support and believe Black Lives Matter and those who believe its aims are less than admirable, between those who welcome persons of color into their daily lives and those who do not. 

On Aug. 10 in Palmyra, some of those lingering questions were broached for the first time in an open, public forum. 

Nine weeks prior, the township’s Flournoy Park was jammed with hundreds of concerned citizens, supporters and agents for change during a massive rally in support of Black Lives Matter. This time, a conversation held in the stifling heat and humidity of a typical August evening drew a more subdued gathering. 

Timing of the follow-up conversation was key: a balance between letting residents soak in the power of the original message, without letting too much time pass that might dilute the power of the message. 

The two-hour session yielded a simple format: Questions submitted by members of the public were asked of the panelists, who addressed them informally but pointedly.

“When I think of ‘All lives matter,’ that’s what I want. I want all lives to matter … but in order for that to be true, then Black lives have to matter,”  noted councilwoman Farrah Jenkins. “What I understand is that my life clearly does not matter to some people.

“When I hear other people are bothered by my feeling that way, I am left to assume that those are the people that want to continue to lie that all lives matter.”

There was extra incentive to hold the event despite the usual late-summer downtime. Kaya Robinson — valedictorian of her Palmyra High School  graduating class and leader of the four-student group that organized the original BLM rally in June — was to leave the following day to begin her four-year journey at Villanova University. 

On the ubiquitous nature of the N-word and the lingering confusion on whether or not Caucasians are allowed to use it when Black people have co-opted it, consensus was universal that it is never appropriate. Jenkins added that although the word is not part of her vocabulary, she is aware of the specific reasons for its usage. 

“I think it’s a rule of language, where there are certain sectors of society where something’s being said, and I’m not welcome to say it,” added local educator Bobby Morgan. 

 

“Whiteness doesn’t know what it’s like to be told you can’t do something. Privilege doesn’t understand the word no. It is a known fact that language depends on who you are and who you’re talking to. You don’t have a right to use it, because your ancestors used it to trample on me,” Morgan added.

On the possibility of “defunding” police departments and improving interactions between local police and Black residents, Eric Robinson — Kaya’s older brother and a 2015 Palmyra High alumnus — urged law-enforcement officials to engage in greater communication with, and understanding of, the whole community, for better outcomes. 

“There’s no trust between the Black community and police officers,’’ he  said. “Police officers need to build that trust, to make sure we don’t hit that ‘fight or flight’ instinct. That’s what it comes down to: If you’re running, you’re terrified. If you’re fighting, you’re terrified.

“There’s no alternative. You are fearful of staring down the barrel of a gun. That doesn’t have to happen when there’s trust.”

The younger Robinson sheepishly apologized for monopolizing the microphone, but nonetheless echoed her older sibling, saying: “What if we poured this money into our youth, into our communities? To make sure that the need for discipline wouldn’t be as strong.

“At the end of the day, we’re saying that Black Lives Matter,” she added. “Not that all lives don’t, just that Black ones need some help right now.”