(VIDEO) Denard’s day – More claim racial profilingDon Denard listens during a Feb. 18, 2014 Decatur City Commission meeting. File Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt
Don Denard says police racially profiled him and his experience isn’t unique.
The former Decatur Board of Education member brought a group of his supporters to the City Commission’s Feb. 18 meeting. Denard read a letter in response to a Decatur Police investigation that cleared officers of racially profiling him.
“Simply put, the finding by (Police Chief Mike Booker) that the officers did nothing wrong is totally unsatisfactory and unacceptable to me and is inconsistent with the pertinent facts of the case,” Denard said.
Booker attended the meeting but did not speak.
The incident Denard was referring to happened Dec. 15. An investigator, identified as Investigator Hall in the report, believed Denard might’ve just burglarized his South Candler Street residence. She came to that conclusion because she saw him leaving his home from the back door and walking toward the street without stopping by his mailbox. Hall wrote in her account that as Denard walked away from his home, he was adjusting his jacket near the waist and was looking all around him. She discovered mail piled high on the porch and Denard’s back door ajar.
Denard refuted the investigator’s rationale, saying it’s proof that the officer was unfamiliar with the neighborhood and making unfounded assumptions based on race.
“It is wise to look all around when preparing to cross the street on South Candler at Kirk,” Denard said, in a moment of levity.
Denard’s supporters spoke after him and described instances where they or someone they knew was profiled by Decatur police.
Nibs Stroupe, a pastor at Oakhurst Presbyterian, spoke on Denard’s behalf.
“I do not want to believe that what Mr. Denard is saying is true, but my experience with many of our African American males at our church tells me that it is,” he said. “I urge you to take this seriously.”
He said he recently hired a 34-year-old black man to work at the church, but warned him about driving through Decatur.
“I told him to be really careful going through Decatur because he would be stopped by the police because he was a young black male,” he said. “I hated to tell him that, but I felt like I had to give him a warning of what might happen.”
Denard told commissioners that he would return with a formal request about how the city should respond to the allegations. Mayor Jim Baskett and other commissioners told him they take his concerns seriously.
Commissioner Kecia Cunningham was visibly upset when Denard first brought his concerns to the commission on Jan. 6. On Feb. 18, she thanked Denard for his comments and said the city will “continue to work on this issue.”
“I trust that we will continue to have heartfelt conversations and reviews and discussions about how race plays out in the city of Decatur,” Cunningham said. “I had the opportunity to speak with Chief Booker earlier this week and it’s a very difficult situation. When you read the reports, the facts don’t change and that’s something that I think comes down to our perceptions and our cultures and what our experiences are. What we always have to be aware of is how those perceptions play into and how they may actually affect how someone feels that they are treated. They may not remember what you said, but they will certainly remember how you made them feel.”
After the meeting, Denard stood out in the hallway hugging his friends and well wishers. He said the people who spoke about their experiences are proof that racial profiling in Decatur is something that needs to be addressed.
“We’ve just got to do better,” he said.
In other business, city commissioners approved giving up giving up the city’s interest in three of the city’s elementary schools. City Schools of Decatur will use three of its elementary schools as collateral to borrow money to expand Decatur High and Renfroe Middle.
The city currently holds an interest in the properties, known as a reversionary clause. When the city transferred property to the school system in 2011, it stipulated ownership would revert back to the city if CSD stopped using the properties as schools.
City Commissioners modified their agreement to waive their reversionary clause in this case, but wanted to be sure that they weren’t giving up any of the city’s interest in other CSD properties.
The commission’s approval is pending the opinion of an independent real estate attorney who will review the terms of the deal, City Manager Peggy Merriss said.
The basics of the agreement will not change.
Under the proposed financing agreement, CSD would transfer title for Clairemont, Glennwood and Oakhurst Elementary Schools to the Georgia Municipal Association. GMA would then sign a lease with the city school system. This lease agreement will be the basis for borrowing $17.5 million to pay CSD’s expansion. Once the school system repays the loans, ownership reverts back to the school system. If CSD defaults on its debt, it could lose ownership of the schools.
Baskett and other commissioners said they felt rushed by school officials because they only received the revised resolution shortly before their meeting. They voted to approve it because they didn’t want to hold up the school system’s plans.
“I’m not going to stand in the way of the school board getting this financing,” Baskett said. “They need to have it. We can put it off, but whatever mechanism we came up with would be an attempt to satisfy the lenders and get it done. Of course, none of us are happy to be this uncomfortable about having to rush this through.”