Community members gather to share ideas & to address discrimination in Athens
Education Campaign Coordinator, Athens for Everyone
“Okay, let’s start by turning to your neighbors. Introduce yourselves, get to know each other,” said Mokah Johnson of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement. This collective display of respect and solidarity set the tone for the entire meeting, organized by Mokah and Knowa Johnson as a follow-up to the “Stop the Killing” vigil and protest which took place at City Hall last Sunday.
An estimated 150 attendees from various backgrounds, nationalities, and races filled the auditorium of the Athens-Clarke County Library to share ideas and find solutions that could improve the relationship between African Americans and police officers. The killing of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge by white police officers is yet another example of excessive use of force by law enforcement and indicative of a larger problem: systemic racism. “We do not want what happened in Minnesota or Baton Rouge to happen in Athens,” said Mokah Johnson.
Police Chief Scott Freeman, who stayed for the entire meeting and stuck around to speak with attendees after, expressed his commitment to fair and impartial policing here in Athens. He also spoke of ACCPD’s commitment to engage with the community and to “protect and serve as guardians of Athens-Clarke County.” Chief Freeman continued, “We are your guardians of this community and not an occupying military force.”
Mokah stated “we’re mentally enslaved” by pre-existing knowledge and experiences. We must take the time to get to know and appreciate one another in order to break racial barriers and put an end to police brutality.
Linda Lloyd of the Economic Justice Coalition stressed the importance of voting and civic engagement. Versatyle tha Wildchyld similarly expressed the power we have to create change. We cannot lose sight of the fact that these elected officials work for us, so we must hold them accountable and put people in office who stand with us.
Tim Denson, President of Athens for Everyone, reviewed the anti-discrimination resolution signed by the Mayor and Commission in February following reports of discrimination in downtown bars. The existing resolution is not enforceable, though, and requires an ordinance to have legal impact. An ordinance would also ideally put in place a Human Relations Commission, an independent board of Athens residents who would address discrimination cases and make recommendations to the Mayor & Commission regarding specific action, whether it be to revoke an alcohol license or facilitate mediation between the violating entity and the victim. Currently, the Mayor & Commission is drafting an anti-discrimination ordinance but has not released it to the public. We must keep the pressure on local government to ensure that this ordinance has the enforceable strength to invoke consequences on any business, not just downtown bars, which engages in discriminatory behavior.
Plan of Action: Practice Love and Respect, Get Educated, Register to Vote, and Congregate.
The message from the evening? Get involved. Don’t wait. While we cannot stand to ignore the egregious racism occurring all across this country, let us start by doing something right here at home in Athens.
How to get involved:
1.) Policy & Government: Join Athens for Everyone and the Anti-Discrimination Movement on July 21 at 5:30 to “Fill the Room” at City Hall as the Government and Operations Committee discusses the anti-discrimination ordinance. As Tim Denson mentioned, usually no one attends these meetings, so to have a full room shows our elected officials just how important this issue is to our community. RSVP and find more info here.
2.) Community/Police Department relations: Mokah Johnson will be attending an Athens-Clarke County Police Department new officers training on July 25 from 1-5 pm to learn more about policing tactics. Get to know ACCPD and let’s improve relations right here in Athens.
3.) Civic Engagement: Register to vote and/or volunteer to help the Economic Justice Coalition with voter registration. Email EJCathensga@gmail.com to volunteer.
As spoken word poet Celest Divine remarked in her beautiful conclusion to the evening: “If you’re black and you’re not angry then something is wrong. If you’re white and you’re not angry then something is wrong. If you’re straight and you’re not angry then something is wrong and if you’re gay and you’re not angry then something is wrong. Beautiful people come together at meetings like this and sometimes they forget to follow up with the action. So you can’t just come and talk about it, you gotta start being about it.”
Look out for more opportunities to get involved and share your ideas or events by joining our Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement Facebook group here. Or visit www.ugalive.com
For more info contact Mokah-Jasmine Johnson at 678 835 8497