by Robin Kemp
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners and members of the community voiced their support for the county’s police department Tuesday evening as police bodycam video of a CCPD officer holding five Jonesboro teens at gunpoint began circulating on social media.
Police say the officer was responding to a call that the boys were playing with a gun in and around a convenience store and that the teenagers confessed to tossing a BB gun in some bushes in a cut-through between the store and some townhomes where the officer detained them. During the stop, concerned citizens pulled out their cellphones to shoot video of the encounter and shouted for the officer not to shoot the boys. After backup arrived and officers searched the teens for weapons, the officer took them back to the store, reviewed security footage, lectured them about the dangers of playing with replica BB guns, and had their parents pick them up.
As the eyewitness videos blew up on social media, Chief Kevin Roberts directed the release of CCPD police reports, bodycam and security footage of the incident, and audio of two 911 calls from the store.
During public comment, Drew Andrews thanked commissioners for taking part in the June 5 March to the Polls, calling voting “the purest form of protest.”
Andrews continued, “But I’m here because of an incident that happened…regarding five young members of our community and a police officer. Having seen four minutes of that painful footage, I was enraged. Because of where we find ourself. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and civil unrest. Racial tensions are high. And so, with that, members of the civil rights organization–I represent the National Urban League, you had National Action Network, along with Rainbow/PUSH, and some of your very own young leaders here–met with Chief Roberts.
“Chief Roberts is an incredible leader,” Andrews said. “Chief, he did not hide at all. We did not have an appointment. We just went up there with some serious questions. He came outside because of social distancing, because he wanted everyone to be present who was there. He engaged us, and he did not leave until every one of us had exhausted our questions. He didn’t dodge not one of them. So I admire Chief Roberts for that.
“So he just asked that we be patient with him, be fair with him, because he’s fair with us. And he’s proven that time and time again. So what he said was, he would make the police body camera footage available, along with the 911 calls. And as I was pulling up, I was receiving alerts that he did do that. And I watched almost 18 minutes of it.
“And I was so moved by the police officer wanting to make sure that those on the other side were safe. He was saying, ‘Please. Please listen to me. Please, I don’t want to hurt you. But I don’t know if you have a gun or not. I received a call that you had a gun.’
“I just want to say thank you,” Andrews concluded. “We have community policing here. We need the community to step up and help the police.”
Chairman Jeff Turner said, “You are absolutely right and I appreciate your words. A lot of people jump to judgment, and at the end of the day, any law enforcement officer just wants the whole story to be told. So what I always ask is for people to have a little patience to look at everything. And I know in Clayton County, especially the Clayton County Police Department, they’re going to be transparent in their actions. And I commend Chief Roberts for putting out all that information. A lot of agencies might say, ‘Well, that might be part of an investigation’ or something else. He put out everything. So it’s hard to be a police officer. A lot of times I tell people, ‘Until you stand in the shoes of a police officer to make a split-second decision, it’s hard to gauge what you would do.’ But I appreciate your words very much.”
District 3 Commissioner Felicia Franklin Warner thanked Andrews “for the very enlightening conversation you and I had today” and for his comments.
“But I want everybody to pay attention to an item on the agenda, as well,” she said. “This board has an opportunity to join in with many other communities across America to be able to speak to this very thing we’re discussing this afternoon or this evening. So I want you all to know that, your commissioner and the one to represent the community, I hear you, and I hear both sides of the community. But I thank you for saying the community has to step up, because in the last three years, the difficult part has been really making sure that people feel safe, the community feels safe. And so we’ve got to continue to work collectively as we move forward in this difficult time. We know that emotions are heightened, but remember, in Clayton County, we’ve got to say to folks, take a step back and be careful of adopting a narrative for here. Because as Mr. Chairman stated, I thank the chief for being so transparent. And I thank you, Drew. And I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your leadership as the previous chief of police and as our chair.”
District 4 Commissioner DeMont Davis added, “I just want to thank you (Andrews) for coming forward. Most folks have a preconceived decision based on the non-information, and then you’ve got the information. And I just want to say thank you for coming forward. Because most folks would have just sat down. But, again, not only do the citizens have to step up, but also our elected officials have to step up, as well. And we’ve got to take what we hear from the citizens, and we’ve got to create policy that’s going to keep everyone safe. Now, I commend our chief–our fire chief and our police chief, for they do outstanding jobs. And we do like the way he made a decision But he did not make an abrupt decision like many leaders have been doing in the past, and come up with a decision that is not just, and wasn’t fair to our police officers. We have to make our police officers also know that they do have our support in what they do, because they do not have an easy job, especially in this season of time.”
Commissioner Sonna Singleton Gregory of District 1 said she wanted to offer her “Sonnagram” on the issue: “Our police department–these men and women spend more time in the community, I think, than most in the area. I mean, sometimes I feel bad and sometimes I try to schedule meetings because I know there are four other commissioners who are also asking them to go to meetings. The police themselves hold meetings for members of the community to come, to ask questions of the chief. The chief holds, you know, he has coffee with citizens, a meeting where all his people are there to answer citizens’ questions, and to me, that’s building up a sense of trust. It should build up a sense of trust, so when situations like this come along, I would hope that citizens in the community say, ‘Well, you know, I know Chief Roberts, and I know that he stands for equality and he has his officers doing right.’ And I would urge the citizens, let’s have some trust here. And let’s don’t just jump when we see it at first. Let’s wait, and let’s hear from the chief.”
She continued, “I was just amazed this morning at Facebook, how, as people saw the videos, they were going on and on and on, and, you know, forming opinions. And then tonight, when you look at it, everybody’s walking it back because they see the entire picture. So again, my main thing is, as much as our chief and his staff spend in the community, engaging the citizens, I would urge the citizens, let’s have some trust in our police force and in our chief.”
Carlos Gary Benefield, who lives in District 3 where the incident took place, said,”To piggyback on what Drew said, I was there with Chief Roberts. And I want to commend the chief. Because you really don’t have too many police officers like Chief Roberts that’s gonna come out and talk. Now, we have some people that’s outside of Clayton County that’s now trying to start a protest with what’s going on with the young men. And I had to let them know that we’ve got to wait and see what Chief Roberts and his staff does first. Because, the officer was there. He was on the call for a gun. So like Chief Roberts said, he (the officer) has to prepare himself. He has to prepare himself with the gun. Also, the young men, if you look at the video, shouldn’t have been at the store, for one. We have to hold ourselves, too, as a community, accountable for things that we do. Parents need to hold theirselves accountable for what their kids do.”
As a mentor with a nonprofit, Benefield said, “I go out in these streets. I know what these young boys and girls are doing. And I try to talk to them about it because I’m originally from Chicago. I know. I’ve been out here in these streets and I know what it is. My mother was a police officer in Chicago. So I’m trying to let these young people know at the same time, we have to hold ourselves accountable for what we do. That police officer didn’t do nothing wrong. He did his job. It was the people that was around him, ‘What are you doing to these boys? What did they do?’ Well, why don’t you wait and see what they did? And at the end of the day, five young men went home with their life, and a police did, too.”
A protest against the officer who pointed the firearm at the teens is scheduled for 5 p.m. tonight (Tuesday, June 17) at BOC headquarters, 112 Smith Street, Jonesboro.