Several local churches and members of the Concerned Clergy of Bulloch County are working together to sponsor an event called “Bridging the Gap: Community Day with Law Enforcement” on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Luetta Moore Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The free event is open to the public.
The festive day will include family friendly events; free food, clothing and some household items; games and prizes; and informative discussions and dialog with local police officers, sheriff’s deputies and Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents.
Community Day is the brainchild of Pastor Paul Johnson of Spirit and Truth Worship Center, who said he is known locally as “Pastor J.” But the idea didn’t originate in his church, he said.
Johnson is the owner of Kingdom Cuts Barbershop in downtown Statesboro and Kingdom Cuts Campus in College Plaza, and he said what’s happened all across the nation has put a negative spin on law enforcement, a negativity he hears echoed in his barbershop.
“I listen to the young men talking. I hear the tone. What they’re saying about law enforcement is inaccurate. It’s not the truth,” he said. “I know — we have police officers in our church.
“We look at law enforcement with the wrong eyes, not as our partners in the community in stopping the violence,” he said. “Our gang activity is growing. Kids are jumping on each other, hurting one another.
“If the enemy, Satan, can keep the black community thinking law enforcement is against us, he can keep us from coming together to handle these things that come up in our community.”
Johnson said the event is twofold: to serve the community by providing things like food and clothing and to disseminate information that can build better relations between community members and law enforcement officers.
“We’re focusing on eliminating the false stereotypes that some community members have against law enforcement and providing an opportunity for the community and law enforcement officers to work together, through conversations back and forth, to stop violence in the community,” he said.
Johnson hopes that some of that dialog will stem from role-reversal simulations that will take place that day. Community members will have a chance to play the role of police officers in such scenarios as traffic stops and domestic violence disputes to gain a perspective from the officer’s side.
Johnson recently completed the five-week Concerned Clergy Citizens Police Academy, during which he took part in several realistic law enforcement scenarios.
“Some of them brought me to tears,” he said.
Johnson has plans for this initial event to be the first of many.
“We’ve got to change what our young people are hearing; we’ve got to change people’s thought processes,” he said. “We need to be actively doing something to bring our communities together.”
For more information about the event, to volunteer or help with Community Day or to make donations, call (912) 243-9466 or email Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.