EDITORIAL: York City protest a missed opportunity

The York Dispatch
  • Earlier that very same day, the police chief complained his officers feel under attack simply because they wear a badge.
  • Had the chief stepped outside he might have been encouraged by some of what he heard.
  • Community leaders, however, say they were not invited to attend the rally.

Amidst seething anger over recent police shootings of black men and outrage when a gunman seeking revenge murdered five Dallas officers, an opportunity was missed in York City.

Hundreds of community members gather in front of the York City Police Department for an anti-violence rally Friday, July 8, 2016. Amanda J. Cain photo

Hundreds of residents concerned about the spate of police shootings rallied in peaceful protest July 8, marching from two locations to the steps of the city police department.

Many of the participants we interviewed said they didn’t have a particular problem with York City’s men and women in blue; they simply wanted to express their frustration over what they see as a national problem.

Similar protests and rallies were held in cities across the country after the deaths of Alton Sterling July 5 in Louisiana and Philando Castile the next day in Minnesota, both at the hands of police officers.

It was at just such a protest July 7 that 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson killed five officers protecting the gathering and wounded 11 other people. He was killed after a standoff, during which he told negotiators he targeted white officers as payback for Sterling and Castile’s deaths.

Yorkers rally to protest police shootings

The York City rally was scheduled before the tragedy in Texas, and an organizer said the group considered canceling it.

Carla Christopher, a community activist and former poet laureate of York City, said the decision was made to carry on and refocus to protest the killing both of black men and the Dallas officers.

Indeed, one of the protesters addressed those gathered and urged them not to blame all police for the actions of a few bad ones. Abu Samia of York City said he feels safer when police are around.

We particularly appreciated his call for city residents to be more vigilant about violence. He said he’s of the opinion police attitudes won’t change without an end to street violence.

“It goes both ways,” he said.

The message we heard — aside from the very clear frustration at the too-frequent cases like Sterling’s and Castile’s — was one of support for the department as a whole and the need for residents to cooperate with police officers trying to keep them safe.

We wish Police Chief Wes Kahley or Mayor Kim Bracey had been there to hear it, too. Unfortunately, they weren't invited, according to Bracey, and they weren't there to acknowledge either the support for the local officers or the concern about broader issues of policing.

Earlier that very same day, the chief said in an interview with The York Dispatch his officers share the feelings of others around the country that they’re under attack simply because they wear a badge.

Kahley said people who believe his officers unfairly target black people — or anyone, for that matter — are wrong. "We're constantly battling against the perception that we have a racist and a brutal police department that violates people's rights," he said.

The chief correctly predicted the rally scheduled for later outside his office would a peaceful gathering of concerned citizens — he just doesn’t share their beliefs.

York City's police chief says officers feel under attack

Only continuous dialogue will overcome suspicion and mistrust between citizens and police, Kahley said, but added any effective dialogue has to be based on facts and not misconceptions.

"There's plenty of opportunity for the community to engage us, and there's plenty of opportunity for us to engage with the community,” he said. “It's a two-way street ... and we continue to hope it's fixable."

That particular street had an unusual intersection on June 8.

Had the protest organizers thought to invite representatives of the administration, had the city officials accepted, had both sides listened, acknowledged the perceptions of the other and pledged to work toward a better understanding ...

On that particular day, we think such a display of unity could have done wonders for the police/community relationship in York City — and set an example for other communities, as well.