NAACP releases suggestions to address controversial police lip-sync video

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

The York NAACP is recommending diversity and cultural sensitivity training for the York City Police Department heads in light of a controversial lip-sync video that was pulled at the direction of the mayor.

That was one of several suggestions the civil-rights organization had for Mayor Michael Helfrich after he attended the NAACP's Tuesday, Aug. 28, meeting to discuss a video featuring city police officers and Springettsbury Township-based Maple Donuts, a business known locally for its owner's conservative views.

The NAACP also recommended the city:

  • Institute community conversations when encountering issues, plans, productions, and/or contracts with a potential impact on the community; 
  • Maintain control over any and all media products involving York City departments; and 
  • Assure accountability in the execution of policies, procedures and protocols in all future actions. 

Helfrich said he thinks the suggestions are "excellent" during a Wednesday, Aug. 29., followup interview.

"We certainly want to have community conversations about any topics that may be of concern to our residents," he said. "The meeting gave an opportunity for some individuals to really explain what the issue is, while some people wanted to simplify the issue to doughnuts or even a video."

Helfrich added that the miscommunication with his staff and the effects of the video brought an important lesson to the surface.

"It showed a bit of a gap that we need to fill to ensure our citizens feel safe and feel protected by their police department," he said.

Still, the mayor said that the city already has taken up some of the suggestions even prior to Helfrich's administration.

For example, he said, city police began diversity and cultural sensitivity training before Helfrich took office.

What can be done, he continued, is to "incorporate some more local cultural awareness into the training, as there may be issues in the community that general diversity training doesn't cover."

The video, meant to raise money for the city police department, was filmed and published last week as a part of a national fundraising phenomenon that has taken social media by storm.

National phenomenon: Police officers from departments across the country have filmed videos of themselves lip-syncing to popular songs, dancing and acting in lighthearted skits to raise money for local first-responders.

West York Police and York City School Police have already made their own lip-sync videos.

The city department's  featured Maple Donuts, a business well known for its conservative and pro-Trump advertising on large billboards and more throughout York County.

It also featured some police officers who were still on the clock during filming.

The video was pulled by the York Revolution before being shown during the Saturday, Aug. 25, Revs game.

The Democratic mayor, who ran as a Republican last November, said Tuesday he opposed the idea of including the "divisive" company in the video not for political reasons but in fear that it would associate the department with the company's beliefs.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich speaks during a York NAACP Chapter meeting at Crispus Attucks Community Center Tuesday, August 28, 2018, regarding a promotional video released by the city's police department. Bill Kalina photo

'Hell no': During the meeting, the mayor recalled that he said "hell no" when the video idea was proposed two weeks earlier, but the message was never relayed to York City Police Chief Troy Bankert through the mayor's chief of staff, Philip Given.

The video was recorded and produced by Be Blonde Productions, an independent production company, and Helfrich said he didn't find out that it was still in the works until this past weekend.

As a result of the misstep, the mayor now wants to better maintain what is produced by city departments to prevent such projects from slipping by the mayor's office, he said.

The mayor said he weighed the options of remaking the video without the company's input, but he said he now has "the worst of both worlds" as the initial video was still released and he's being criticized for political motives.

The video was released last week by the independent company and is available on Maple Donuts' and other Facebook pages.

While many of those watching The York Dispatch's Facebook Live broadcast of Tuesday's NAACP meeting commented that it was a politically motivated stunt — an accusation Helfrich denied — NAACP members remained on the mayor's side.

Helfrich reiterated his initial statements made Monday during his live weekly mayor's address on Facebook  after residents took to social media both in support of and in opposition to the decision.

'Dangerous': "I have no problem with an independent company doing what they want with their advertising," Helfrich said. "But when it becomes associated with the police department, we're getting in a dangerous area."

He added, "I'm here to represent everybody in York City; that's my job. And it's my job also to try and make people feel safe."

The most recent U.S. Census data shows that 27 percent of the city's residents are African-American and 30.9 percent are of Latin American origin — and that doesn't include those who relocated to York City after last year's Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

The city police department has 109 officers, and 87.2 percent of them are white men, according to statistics provided by Given.

More:York City mayor, activists agree on how to diversify police department

Community input: York NAACP President Ophelia Chambliss said the issue isn't just about a simple doughnut or the police department.

York NAACP Chapter Vice President Ophelia Chambliss speaks during a NAACP meeting at Crispus Attucks Community Center Tuesday, August 28, 2018, regarding a promotional video released by the York City Police Department. Bill Kalina photo

"This is about association and representation," she said. "The department represents the citizens of York, and the owner of Maple Donuts has made it clear what his policies and positions are."

Chambliss added, "Because there was a lack of sensitivity, they made some really bad choices."

Helfrich said that following the release of the video, Bankert said he had no idea that the Maple Donuts collaboration would present an issue with the community.

The mayor chalked the police chief's response to a "lack of cultural competence" and a "knowledge gap" regarding minority city residents' concern.

Scoffs and sighs: The statement was followed by scoffs and sighs from audience members, including one who said Bankert "needs to be held accountable and needs to release a statement."

Still, Helfrich said he "certainly believes" that the chief will be able to sharpen his knowledge of issues that affect the minority community.

Bankert declined comment and directed questions to the mayor's office, but Given said the chief planned to release a statement by the end of the day Wednesday.

No such statement was released.

Melinda Alexander of York City said the department lacks officers who were raised or live in the city.

"They don't know the people in the community," she said. "In order for that to happen, I think they should come up with classes so that the police officers can actually learn to deal with the people of our community."

Melinda Alexander of York City speaks during a York NAACP Chapter meeting at Crispus Attucks Community Center Tuesday, August 28, 2018, regarding a promotional video released by the city's police department. Bill Kalina photo

She also gave credit to Helfrich, saying, "You got to respect him for shutting the video down."

Pastor's issue: The Rev. Larry Walthour, pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church, said there's a bigger issue behind the video: The minority community is still supporting Maple Donuts.

"It's disingenuous to say that the minority community has an issue with Maple Donuts, because when I pass by there are lot of African-Americans, Hispanics and white brothers and sisters supporting this business."

Walthour said Maple Donuts needs to reach out to the minority community.

Suggestions at end of the meeting included boycotting Maple Donuts and helping the mayor reshoot the video.

NAACP President Sandra Thompson, who moderated the question-and-answer segment, said the decision would be made in a private setting following the meeting.

Not the first time: The NAACP meeting wasn't the mayor's first time addressing the video with the minority community, Given said.

On Monday, Aug. 27, the mayor met with Latinos Unidos, a Latino advocacy organization.

Lou Rivera, one of the organization's founders, couldn't immediately be reached for comment but addressed the matter Monday on Facebook.

"While the video is innocuous in itself, and a great bunch of men and women in blue from the chief on down serve our great city, the seeds of divisiveness have been sown by the donut business in question and there is no room in our community to grant them the publicity they so desire," he wrote.

Charles Burnside, CEO of Maple Donuts, couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

In the end, Helfrich said he either could choose to release the video and risk that "people feel less safe and that the police department also has opinions that are expressed by the company," or he could choose not to release it and "have a bunch of people angry at me."

The mayor chose the latter.

Improving relations: "This is about trying to improve the relationship between our police department and our residents," he said, and people "can do what they want with the video" as it's already been published by a third-party company.

The video has been published on multiple Facebook accounts, including that of Maple Donuts. Comments on the videos vary greatly, some condemning the mayor for the decision and some supporting his decision.

Bailey Coach, another York company, also created a GoFundMe in an effort to continue to raise money for the police department while also criticizing the mayor's decision.

The page has raised nearly $7,000.

"This video was made all in good fun to participate in a nationwide trend set by first-responders," wrote John Bailey, the company's CEO. "There should be no political arguments about a local company supporting a local police department, despite the political views that local company has. It has absolutely nothing to do with the reason or goal of the video."