In response to the death of George Floyd and protests happening across the country, a community forum was held Wednesday at the Dress Barn inside Muncie Mall to address the status of racial injustice in the City of Muncie.
Each speaker was given two to three minutes to speak after which there was a Q&A session. The questions came from sheets passed out before the forum and would be read off by Pastor Andre Mitchell of the Deliverance Temple.
During her speech, WaTasha Barnes Griffin, CEO of the YWCA, called for an end to racial injustice throughout the country. She began by repeatedly saying “Black lives matter” and the audience members repeated the slogan after her. This was one of the multiple instances when she received a standing ovation during her speech.
Barnes Griffin talked about telling her son when he was growing up not to do certain things in order to avoid police brutality — like wearing a durag or a hoodie and not complying with police officers.
“Is that really freedom?” she said.
She asked the other speakers in attendance to keep her son and all members of the African-American community safe and to have uncomfortable conversations about race and told the audience not to forget about the issue after the riots and protests are over.
“We don’t have a regularly scheduled program to get back to, this is our regularly scheduled program,” Barnes Griffin said.
Leaders from the City of Muncie like Mayor Dan Ridenour and Muncie Police Department (MPD) Chief Nathan Sloan spoke about racism in Muncie and their plans moving forward.
Ridenour repeated his message from the city council meeting on Monday and his daily video briefings.
“There is no place in the City of Muncie for prejudice, not now, not tomorrow, not ever,” he said.
Ridenour said he was proud of the relationship between the police and the community, wants that relationship to keep growing and believes communication is the key to doing so.
“The only way we’ll get anywhere is together,” Ridenour said.
Sloan said MPD officers are doing the best they can to forge a relationship with the African-American community in Muncie. He talked about the importance of having minorities on the police force, but said that number is not where he wants it to be.
University Police Department Chief Jim Duckham spoke about the importance of police officers having a good relationship with citizens.
“I don’t think you can police a community unless you’re seen as part of that community,” Duckham said.
There have been 192 community policing events to help bring UPD and the Ball State community closer, he said.
Duckham concluded his speech talking about Floyd’s death.
“It makes me question everything I believe in about this job,” he said.
During the Q&A session which followed, Delaware County Prosecutor Eric Hoffman was asked a question about jail reform and his plans moving forward.
Hoffman said while the judge handles sentencing, his main focus is finding alternatives to non-violent and first-time offenders. He also spoke about the importance justice holds in everyday life.
“The benchmark of a society is the quality of their justice,” he said.
County Sheriff Tony Skinner focused on the plans moving forward to prioritize training to avoid instances of racial injustice. He said it has been a long time since cultural sensitivity training was present at MPD, but it will happen soon and will continue to happen in the future. He talked about the importance of body cameras on police officers and assured that this will hold law enforcement accountable.
Ro-Anne Royer Engle, Ball State’s vice president of student affairs, talked about holding her department accountable and making sure she was doing the best she could handle these situations.
Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, CEO of Muncie Community Schools (MCS), spoke about the presence of diversity in her schools. This included a plan for Jim Williams, president of the MCS Board of Trustees, to teach a course about racial and cultural significance in the summer. She said MCS plans to have de-escalation training for all school officers over the summer.
Barnes Griffin concluded her speech by telling the audience one last thing to remember after the forum.
“If Black lives really matter, check your heart,” she said.
Another forum is being planned for next month that will be led by African-American community leaders. The time and place for this forum is yet to be determined.