Former President Barack Obama recently issued a call to action for mayors, city councils and police oversight bodies to address police use of force policies. City of South Fulton Mayor William “Bill” Edwards says he’s answering the call with a virtual town hall with Police Chief Keith Meadows and City Manager Odie Donald.
The trio will address the South Fulton Police Department’s use of force policy and solicit feedback from citizens on the issue today, June 22 at 6 p.m.
“I am up for the challenge and committed to taking action,” said Mayor Edwards. “It is imperative that we examine our use of force policies with the community and have transparent conversations about policing. This town hall will do just that.”
Obama’s challenge to officials was issued in four parts, calling for leaders to review their use of force policies, engage communities, report the findings and implement reform. He is also calling on citizens to review the New Era of Public Safety report and toolkit, and demand that police departments adopt a specific set of guidelines to promote accountability and protect civil rights.
So far, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin are among those who have publicly committed to signing Obama’s Mayors Pledge.
Some have even begun taking action. Bottoms has established a commission to examine use of force policies. Benjamin and Breed have both committed to the #8CantWait model, which outlines eight steps to decrease police violence by 72 percent.
While elected officials have an integral role to play in addressing residents’ concerns over use of force, officers are also being looked to for leadership.
Since joining the South Fulton Police Department, Chief Meadows has affirmed his commitment to the 21st Century Policing Model established by an executive order signed by Obama in December 2014. It was created in response to the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown at the hands of police.
In recent weeks, Chief Meadows has participated in several town halls hosted by South Fulton councilmembers to discuss policing. And while some across the nation have called for more training for officers, he has been adamant that training alone is not the answer.
“If you don’t have compassion for a person when you have your knee on their neck and they are begging you, saying that they can’t breathe, I don’t think any amount of training in the world would have changed who that police officer was,” he said, referencing Derek Chauvin, the former officer charged with the death of George Floyd.
Chief Meadows made the comment in an interview with Blayne Alexander that was featured on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. He told Alexander that departments have to take a closer look at who they are hiring, and that stronger psychological screenings are needed during the recruitment stage.
He also said that he’s talked to protestors and that he supports them. “They’re frustrated because they’re not seeing the change,” he said.
Other members of the South Fulton Police Department are also empathizing with public outcry over police violence and demonstrating their commitment to building bridges with the community and keeping lines of communication open. Sgt. N. Williams has participated in multiple marches with his family and community members to promote unity. He has also publicly acknowledged the complexity of being a Black man and a Black police officer. His wife shared his words on Facebook.
“I’m determined to be the best role model to my Black son and other Black boys and girls I encounter,” Williams expressed. “I was Black before I became blue, and I’m still Black on both sides.”
South Fulton residents who wish to participate in tonight’s forum on the police department’s use of force policy can do so via the city’s YouTube channel. Questions for Mayor Edwards, Chief Meadows and City Manager Donald can be submitted in advance by emailing Deloris Baskin at Deloris.Baskin@cityofsouthfultonga.gov.
Photos: Mayor William “Bill” Edwards, Police Chief Keith Meadows, City Manager Odie Donald