Editor’s note: The Citizen is co-sponsoring two deliberative forums to allow people from different perspectives to discuss and potentially find common ground on the issue of policing. The online forums will be held 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12, and noon Saturday, Oct. 17. Those who wish to participate can sign-up here in advance.
By Katelyn Waltemyer, contributor
Debates are continuing over the future of policing — including in Virginia’s U.S. Senate race — after a summer of protests during which some have called for defunding the police, making changes to police training and/or banning chokeholds, among other calls for reforms. Such discussions have divided other communities.
With policing being a crucial topic and the election only weeks away, The Citizen is co-sponsoring a deliberative forum about policing because many citizens have engaged from different sides of the issue and with different perspectives. Here’s a timeline of some key events and developments regarding police in Harrisonburg over the last few months:
May 29, the first rally in Harrisonburg
Shortly after George Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin, a now-former Minneapolis police officer, the Harrisonburg community gathered to protest. About 300 people attended a peaceful demonstration in Harrisonburg’s court square.
June 1, the silent march
About 1,000 people attended. The organizer, Maleke Jones said he chose to utilize a silent march because of the violence he witnessed in other cities. That afternoon, City Councilmember Chris Jones also led the community in prayer downtown.
June 5, a peaceful protest
A second rally formed in Harrisonburg’s Court Square to protest racial injustice and policing.
June 10, JMU’s virtual town hall
JMU’s Madison Center for Civic Engagement hosted this event, which had panel members, including students and Harrisonburg Police Chief Eric English. English emphasized the need for the community to hold police accountable when they feel the police have acted out of line.
June 12, HPD releases use of force data
After a participant in the June 5 rally spoke out about having to spend $300 to view the police department’s use-of-force reports, English said he’d look into making the records public. A week later, the department posted the records on the city’s website. The numbers showed a the number of arrests made of Black people that included use of force was disproportionate to the percent of Black people in Harrisonburg.
June 16, rethinking school resource officers
At the city council meeting that Tuesday, Superintendent of Harrisonburg City Public Schools Micheal Richards said he’d review the relationship between the school district and the police. Richards said he’s against having armed, uniformed police officers in schools. The board ultimately approved a revised agreement that will have school resource officers continue working in a more limited capacity this year.
June 23, HPD makes some changes
Former Police Chief Eric English addressed city council in June to share HPD’s new regulation in regard to its use-of-force policy. The rule reads: “While reasonable force is required, any officer that witnesses another officer using inappropriate force on any citizen is obligated to intervene to prevent any further unnecessary force. The sanctity of life is of the utmost importance in any use of force encounter.” In addition, English said the department would review police violence cases that gain national attention to evaluate the situation and how it was handled.
Aug. 22, Back the Blue rally supporting law enforcement
Citizens and some officials gathered outside of the county’s Circuit Court building to show support for law enforcement.
Sept. 12, a new, interim, chief in town
After accepting the role of Police Chief in Henrico County, English left Harrisonburg and the then-Deputy Chief Gabriel Camacho stepped in as interim chief.
With more than 25 years in law enforcement, Camacho spent most of his time at Camden County’s police department in New Jersey prior to Harrisonburg. Camacho joined Harrisonburg’s department in December 2019.
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