HAMLET —The Rev. Dian Griffin Jackson’s oldest son was shot and killed some years ago — not by police but by gun violence. She sat on a panel Thursday night at Wayman Chapel AME Zion Church as a member of a roundtable discussion held by the local chapter of the NAACP.
A few weeks ago, her two living sons were in town visiting and as they made their way back home through Aberdeen they were pulled over. The oldest son is 25, the youngest 24, and when Jackson got a call from her boys saying they had been pulled over, her motherly instinct kicked in.
“He called me on the phone, and I wasn’t expecting him to say, ‘Mom, I just got pulled.’ My heart immediately went south,” she said. “Now I do know that we have not had any instances of inappropriateness from law enforcement on teenage or young men in our county. But can you just imagine as a parent, both your sons are in a car and then the first thing that comes to your mind is oh my goodness. I told him not to hang up that phone until he was driving off.
“No mother or father should have to be this anxious when their child is being pulled for a taillight,” she continued. “No parent should have to go through this. It is true that being black is not always the best thing to be when you are being pulled by law enforcement.”
Donald Matthews — another member on the panel and the district director for the North Carolina NAACP — was surprised by such a large gathering Thursday, but said that’s part of the process. Then he noticed Hamlet Police Chief Scott Waters and a couple of his officers come in, and said that’s part of the process too.
“If we don’t start to have these conversations, it’s gonna get a lot worse, because there’s an element in this society that wants it worse. You can believe whatever you want but there are a group of people that want these clashes to happen,” Matthews said. “And they’ll almost tell you, and if you read between the lines they will tell you. Why do I want it to continue? Because you don’t know what I’m actually trying to accomplish. If I can keep this guy from being your friend and they keep me from being his friend while they rule the world. And they’re getting better and better and better at it.
Matthews said he’s had to reel himself in to keep from falling off into an abyss of anger, but added the Lord told him there’s a better way: keeping a dialogue going like what’s happening in Richmond County.
“To meet people I’ve never met before, to talk to people and come up with ideas and solutions that I may not have thought about and that’s the key,” he said. “It’s OK to have these meetings but leave with solutions. Continue to have the dialogue.”
Dobbins Heights Mayor Antonio Blue, who also serves as the local NAACP chapter’s president, said that a main point in race relations between African-Americans and law enforcement is how the conversation starts when someone gets pulled over.
“If it starts off right, it’s gonna end right. But if it starts off wrong, it’s gonna end wrong,” said Blue.
But Waters said he and the officers of the Hamlet Police Department don’t hate, and anyone with a problem can visit him 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“I’m here to protect and serve. I want us to have open dialogue. I want to feel safe that I can walk down any street,” said Waters.
Blue talked about being pulled over in Hamlet a couple of years ago and their conversation started off wrong. With the officer asking Blue, “Where you coming from and where you going,” he said had he been 19 years old instead of being older it could have been a whole different conversation.
“Maybe the line of questioning should be a little different, like how you doing or how’s your day going. I’m 53 and the police officer might’ve been 20 and he asked me where am I going, where am I coming from. That’s something that we need to be mindful of,” said Blue. “It doesn’t always have to be the police officer. It can be the person they stopped. It can be either way, but at the end of the day, it needs to start off right to end right.”
With everything going on in the world today, Waters said, there’s hatred and he and his men are just doing their jobs. If someone wants to video record him during a stop, he would tell them go ahead because he’s going to do his job right. But he would tell them why he stopped them in the first place.
“There’s not a racist bone in my body. My heart pumps blood just like everybody else in this room. We’re here for you,” said Waters. “Anytime I can do anything for you to make you feel safe as far as law enforcement in the city of Hamlet, North Carolina, I will.”
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674 and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.