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Editorial: NAACP president’s message to continue building

Across the country, some groups advocating for change in law enforcement have found a louder voice with which to call to the defunding or dismantling of police departments entirely.

Those movements involve calls to make steep cuts to police departments and direct funding elsewhere and/or reimagine public safety entirely in ways that do not involve traditional police forces. They are large, ambitious goals that will take years to fully accomplish correctly. As voices advocating for that change have grown louder so have the criticisms saying they are unrealistic and dangerous.

Most notably, the city council in Minneapolis, the site of George Floyd’s killing, began the ambitious leap over the weekend when a majority of the city council said they would dismantle the existing police department.

In Salisbury, Gemale Black, local NAACP president, is advocating for the continuation of existing momentum as the vehicle for change.

In a letter sent to police department officials and a number of other local leaders, Black noted the good working relationship between the local NAACP and police. He said the mission of the NAACP is to uplift people of color in the community and the organization plans to hold police accountable when needed.

“The growth and development has taken time, but the police department has and continues to move in the right direction,” Black wrote. “No, we’re not saying they are perfect, but until proven otherwise, we shall stand united for the common goal to protect equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being in our community.”

Black’s message is not one that says “tear it all down.” Rather, he’s asking the NAACP, city leaders, local residents and the police department to continue building. What’s happening in Salisbury will be a marathon rather than a sprint, he said.

“We must pace ourselves to fight politically and to continue peacefully protesting,” Black wrote. “The anger, sadness and frustration that we feel will be the driving force in working towards a better future not only for us but for future generations in our city, county and world.”

To be clear, the Salisbury City Council ultimately controls the pursestrings of the police department. It could, for example, choose to divert some portion of funding to new or existing mental or social services programs or ensure the creation of new programs within the department itself.

But the Salisbury Police Department’s leadership have been ready to embrace new models of law enforcement that focus on putting the community first. That doesn’t mean change isn’t needed, but as Black said there’s already momentum in the right direction.

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