African-American pastors & law enforcement forum aims to bridge gap and create change

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MAULDIN, S.C. (WSPA) – A major push to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the African-American community in the Upstate. Local religious leaders and retired officers are joining forces to create change.

A step towards answering cries.

“If there’s a cry, we want to make sure we address the cry and in the African-American community, there is a lot of crying,” said President of the Baptist Ministers Fellowship of Greenville & Vicinity, Pastor Robert Simpson.

Pastor Robert Simpson and other Upstate faith leaders from Pastors United for Action and Baptist Ministers Fellowship of Greenville & Vicinity, are working to do that through dialogue and experience.

“When I started, we never got the good assignments and we talked to a leader in the community and he quietly went to the mayor and quietly voiced our concerns. Overnight, there was changes made that were good really for everybody,” said Retired Greenville Police Chief, Willie Johnson.

Each of the men at the forum that was held Thursday evening, have a lot of experience like Greenville’s first African-American Police Chief, Willie Johnson and retired Captain, Calvin Kelley.

Both told us, since their time on the force, some things have changed.

“Now because of technology, when something happens in California, you see it five minutes later in Greenville,” Chief Johnson told us.

Others, not so much.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done in regards to race relations,” said Retired Captain with the Greenville County Sheriff’s Department, Calvin Kelley.

But one thing people in the room want is to strengthen the bridge between the community and law enforcement, especially with local religious leaders who have historically been a pillar for social justice.

“Everything that took place, a black preacher was involved,” Pastor Simpson said.

Pastor Simpson told 7 News, it’s needed.

“In our community, they’re afraid if their child is going to be pulled over, how they’re going to handle it,” Simpson said.

The retired law enforcement officials on the stage at the Mauldin Cultural Center Thursday evening offered their own solutions, like bias and mental health training, even tightening how they hire officers.

“When something happens, let it be known that it happened and this is what we’re going to do to fix it. You can’t keep shoving it under the rug,” said one officer on the stage.

“In years past, we did citizen police academies. We had citizens come in and offer police training like officers do,” Johnson told us.

They hope this is just the beginning of change. Kelley believes it is.

“Just knowing we’re on the right road again,” Kelley said.

What’s next, religious leaders want to keep these forums and conversations going. You can keep track of updates through their Facebook pages below:

Pastors United for Action: https://www.facebook.com/PastorsUnitedForAction/

Baptist Ministers’ Fellowship: https://www.facebook.com/Baptist-Ministers-Fellowship-124850570995268/

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