Delaware ministers call for talks and civil rights commission

 IMAC members call for civil rights commission and open dialogue with law enforcement (Shirley Min/WHYY)

IMAC members call for civil rights commission and open dialogue with law enforcement (Shirley Min/WHYY)

The recent deaths of black men in Ferguson, MO and in New York City at the hands of white police officers have clergy in Delaware calling for action.

Delaware’s Interdenominational Ministers Action Council expressed its disappointment and indignation with the recent grand jury decisions not to indict two white police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island; both unarmed African American men. IMAC said the two incidents as well as the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, OH suggest that the lives of Black men do not matter.  

“We find it appalling that the human lives of these African American men did not even warrant an indictment to be tried in a court of law,” said Rev. Dr. Lawrence Livingston, chair of IMAC’s Social Action & Justice Committee. “This disregard for the lives of African American men at the hands of police which we believe once again has unearthed the problems of race in our country can no longer be tolerated.”

“We are concerned about what we see as a national pattern of reckless and deadly law enforcement without fair judicial oversight,” said Rev. Herbert Owens, president of the United Baptist Convention of Delaware. “The recent controversial grand jury nondecision only serves to validate the fear and the distrust [that] many of our young African American men have for law enforcement officers and for our judicial system.” 

Civil rights commission

IMAC members held a news conference Friday morning inside Wilmington’s Mother African Union Church, where they called on Gov. Jack Markell, Delaware’s Congressional Delegation and the state’s Black caucus to establish a commission on civil rights in Delaware.

“We the members of IMAC believe this moment in our history to be a catalyst for change,” Livingston said. “In the state of Delaware, we have to get out in front of these issues so we do not have a Ferguson, MO or Staten Island, NY situation in our fair state.”

The civil rights commission, Rev. Dr. Vincent Oliver said, would complement Delaware’s existing human rights commission. The vice president of IMAC said because the human rights commission is limited in what it can address, he would like to see a mechanism in place and never need it as opposed to the other way around.

“If it goes to the level of discrimination, by way of gender or race, then the civil rights commission, I believe, would have more teeth to do some things,” said Oliver, who pointed out Delaware is one of only a few states without such a commission. “We believe a commission in place on civil rights would dissuade and prevent a lot of violation that might otherwise come to be.”

“When we see these disparities,” said Livington, alluding to the deaths of Brown, Garner and Rice, all of whom were Black, “it suggests that something under the surface is happening. And we in the African American community would suggest that racism is the underlying cause. Now we could be wrong, but that would be something that the civil rights commission would disclose.”

“Let’s sit down and talk”

In addition, IMAC President Rev. Dr. Silvester Beaman demanded that “real dialogue” be established between law enforcement and the communities they’re sworn to protect. 

“We call the governor, we call law enforcement officers, we call the mayor, the county exec (Tom Gordon), come to the table. Let’s sit down and talk, let’s be in dialogue,” he said. “We need to hear the conversation of those who are most wounded and hurting and are crying in our neighborhoods.”

Beaman warned if a conversation is never had, then the “gulf of trust and mistrust” will continue to widen. 

Beaman said IMAC is counting on members of the state’s Black caucus to push its agenda for a civil rights commission in Dover and to open a dialogue in the coming weeks.

Former chair and active member of the Delaware Black Caucus board, New Castle County Councilman Jea Street assured the clergy that “I will, and the caucus will, move expeditiously to make sure that the plea that I personally agree with is brought before the appropriate elected officials and it’s dealt with expeditiously.”

Moral Mondays

In the meantime, IMAC members said this Sunday, Dec. 14, several churches in Wilmington will take part in the nationwide movement called, “Black Lives Matter.” Beaman said congregants will dress in black and be given a chance to hear affirming messages as well as have an opportunity to express themselves.

The following day, the “Moral Mondays” movement that began in North Carolina protesting several actions by that state’s government will come to the First State. 

Rev. Dr. Donald Morton, associate pastor of Tabernacle Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral, said, “We brought Moral Mondays to Delaware to kind of place pressure on Legislative Hall to do the right thing. Many of the things that we talked about today are on Moral Monday’s agenda.” 

The first demonstration is a march down King Street at 5:30 p.m. starting at the Doubletree Hotel. 

“We’ll be marching from 8th and King at the Doubletree to 4th and King, at the intersection of 4th and King, where we too will join in solidarity with those across the country laying down for the lives that have been laid down by police officers,” Morton said.

An information session about Monday’s march is scheduled to take place at Morton’s church at 5th and Washington Streets on Sunday night.

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