Shirley Sherrod, former USDA state director of rural development, interacts with other attendees at a meeting the racial healing initiative. (Staff Photo: Jim West)
ALBANY — A handful of concerned citizens says Albany has its share of racial issues and, powered by a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, they’re determined to turn things around.
On Thursday evening, some 40 people participated in the Racial Healing initiative in Southwest Georgia meeting at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany for the group’s latest discussion session.
Thursday’s theme was law enforcement and institutional racism, and the audience included ministers, political figures, educators and law enforcement. Col. Don Davis, MCLB-Albany commanding officer, was there, as was former USDA state director of rural development Shirley Sherrod and local NAACP district coordinator Tammy Green.
To answer questions from the group were Capt. Michael Persely with the Albany Police Department and Chief Troy Conley of the Dougherty County School System Police Department.
“The reality is that if we’re going to move our community forward, we’ll have to work together with our local law enforcement, with our schools, in order to make Albany better. That’s the bottom line,” said Harriet Hollis, grants and projects coordinator for racial healing and Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education Inc.
According to Hollis, the community will remain divided until certain institutional and structural issues in local law enforcement are addressed and residents have a better understanding of what law enforcement officials are trying to accomplish.
“Albany’s not going to be able to thrive if we continue to be divided across racial lines,” Hollis said. “We’re excited about the possibilities in Albany. This is our home, but how can we entice our children to stay here if it doesn’t get better?”
According to Hollis, many of the young people who have finished school and left the area say racial tension is a major reason.
Attendees of the meeting watched a portion of a video which cited a number of examples of institutional racism. In one example, the video suggested that through historic stereotypes, many law enforcement officers would assume a young black man caught speeding in an expensive car to be a drug dealer. The same officers might assume a young white male to be just a spoiled rich kid. Statistically, the white male would be more likely to have drugs in the car, the video suggested, while the black male’s car would be more likely to be searched.
Following the first video segment, attendees came together in smaller groups to discuss open “thought” questions provided by the coordinators, including “how can Albany be more inclusive when it comes to policy making?” and “why is it important we are totally inclusive?”
Between video segments, attendees were encouraged to ask questions of speakers Persely and Conley. When asked by one attendee if he thought black students in Dougherty County schools were committing more infractions than “the others,” Conley replied that most of the students in all the schools are black.
“I’m not familiar with the exact percentage,” Conley said, “But I feel safe in saying that Dougherty County schools are predominantly black.”
While not directly addressing racism in Albany, Persely offered the opinion that historically law enforcement agencies have been used to enforce racist social attitudes and laws.
“Every time the social justice system has failed, that’s when the police come in,” Persely said. “The police bring their dogs from home, and the fire department hoses (the people) down. Well after that, when you’re robbed or your house burns down, you’re not going to call the police or the fire department.”
Hollis said each of the monthly racial healing meetings includes a separate theme. The meetings are free and open to anyone who would like to attend, Hollis said. For more information about the racial healing initiative, call Harriett Hollis at (229) 430-9870 or (229) 446-9269.