Thumbs up to “Peaches.” She’s also known as the Rev. Lethonia Barnes of Savannah Grove Baptist Church.
She’s the person who deserves most of the credit for spearheading the “community conversation” that was held Monday evening at Savannah Grove Baptist Church. Last week, we gave too much credit to S.C. Rep. Terry Alexander for organizing the forum.
Hundreds of people practically filled the large church on Alligator Road for a 90-minute gathering at which a group of community leaders spoke and answered questions from citizens about law enforcement and race relations.
We applaud everyone who was involved in bringing people together. We applaud citizens who took the time to come.
The meeting was timed four days after five Dallas police officers were fatally shot in an ambush as they patrolled a protest. That incident came shortly after fatal police shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Minneapolis area.
Thankfully, we haven’t had incidents of this extreme in and around Florence, and the point of Monday’s forum was to keep it that way.
There were far more questions than answers at this local forum. That’s understandable. This problem can’t be solved in 90 minutes.
But this was a good start. Organizers have every intention of continuing the dialogue. We hope there indeed will be follow through.
Community meetings like this have been held in the past, but after the meetings have ended, nothing much has happened.
Perhaps it was a good thing that people still stood in line at microphones and didn’t get a chance to say what they came to say or ask the question that they wanted answered. Some of these people were frustrated that the meeting ended at 8 p.m., as planned, but we hope they will be the first ones in line to speak at the next meeting.
We need a continuing dialogue between citizens and law enforcement officials.
Some good points were made by panelists and others Monday.
“Being different is not wrong,” Alexander said near the beginning of the meeting. “… If we had answers, we wouldn’t be here. … We don’t want this community to blow up because somebody disrespects somebody else.”
Kelvin Wymbs, Florence School District One’s director of secondary education, said, “Our youth are going to be watching our actions.”
Ed Clements III, the 12th Circuit solicitor, quoted extensively from the Bible and said, “What we need is a revival.”
Darrin Yarborough, a special crimes lieutenant with the Florence County Sheriff’s Office, said, “There’s a disconnect. We need to find a way to get that connection back.” He said when he was on street patrol, citizens used to invite him to their cookouts for something to eat and drink. “Now they give you that look, because everybody’s on edge.”
Johnnie Abraham, a lieutenant with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), said, “We need the community and the community needs us. We need to work together.”
Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler recalled something his mother used to say. “‘If you’re a racist, you’re a hater, and if you’re a hater, you’re not going to heaven,’” he said.
Pat Gibson-Hye Moore, a Florence School District One board member who recently was elected to the Florence City Council, said, “Let’s learn to get along and not fear each other.”
One citizen said the school district needs to educate students on how to deal with law enforcement officials.
Wymbs didn’t disagree but said, “We need to talk to our kids about what’s going on in this world and not just pass the buck to other people.”
“Peaches” closed the meeting by asking, “Will this be just another meeting?” She noted that a similar meeting was held a year ago after the Charleston church massacre, and the result was nothing. “Today we meet again,” she said. “Now it’s on you.”
The problem goes deeper than race relations.
“We’ve got some heart problems,” she said. “Big heart problems, and rules and regulations can’t fix those heart problems.”
She’s right. The key is this: How many citizens who came to the Monday meeting will come to the next meeting? How soon will there be a next meeting? We hope it’s soon. Let’s not lose momentum.
Thumbs up to the Windy Hill Fire Department. That praise comes from Pat Hensly of Quinby. “A late night house fire on July 4th is something I will never forget,” Pat wrote. “The flames were higher than the house. I witnessed this and in 20 minutes Windy Hill fire dept. had it under control. We are blessed to have such a dedicated group of men who risk their lives to protect us. Many thanks to them. We lost our elderly neighbor in that fire, which was very sad, but more damage could have occurred if we didn’t have these brave men.”
A BIG THUMBS DOWN!!!! comes from Barbara Pecca of Florence. “Why do most restaurants and fast-food places not have delivery service?” she wrote. “There are a lot of people who don't have vehicles or the cash to pay a taxi $20 to get to and from a restaurant or fast-food place. All you can get delivered is freaking pizza, and that gets REAL old REAL fast!! What's the deal, Florence?”
Thumbs up, thumbs down is a regular feature of the Morning News and appears each Saturday on our Opinion page. We seek nominations for both good and bad deeds from our readers. Send nominations to us by email at email@example.com. Be sure use the word “thumb” in the subject and include a contact number. Thumbs can also be mailed to us c/o The Morning News, 310 S. Dargan St., Florence, S.C., 29506.