Garfield Heights residents, officials and police hold meeting to discuss race relations

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GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio (WJW) — Citizens, community leaders, and police officers got together for an honest and frank discussion about race relations. 

The event was held at Rock Community Church in Garfield heights. The group engaged in tough talk about bias, racism, and discrimination, particularly in policing.

“These are issues that have always been underlying in the city, but with things kind of coming to a head, this was just a great opportunity for us to again, start a conversation,” said Garfield Heights resident Michael Peters, one of the organizers.

More than a half dozen Garfield Heights officers participated, many on their day off, according to the city’s deputy police chief.

“We kind of went back and forth on what would be best and we felt, we’re just gonna bring police officers with us, we’re gonna spread out and we’re gonna have casual conversation,” said Deputy Chief Mark Kaye.

This group discussion comes about a week and a half after police body cam video of a controversial arrest was released. It shows a 28-year-old man with mental illness tackled, tased and held to the ground by officers. The injured man was held in jail for five months until prosecutors saw the video and dropped the charges.

Earlier this month, he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officers and the city.

“It’s a tough time for sure, for the citizens and for law enforcement, nobody likes seeing media stories like this,” said Kaye.

“The ideal for us today is really to look at how dealing with structural racism impacts community, how policing impacts community…but ultimately how we can come together to really understand these historical differences,” said Peter Whitt, of Enlightenment Consultant Group.

Organizers say open discussions like these are just the start of a long journey that leads to greater understanding and unity.

“To kind of push us as the leaders in this community to hear their voices and to try to move progressively in terms of legislation and to do what is right for everyone,” said Garfield Heights Councilwoman Shayla L. Davis.

“I’m hoping that conversations will bear fruit to help our city continue to grow as community that care for everybody that’s here,” said Pastor David Brunelle, of The Rock Community Church.

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