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Liberty County NAACP seeks partnership between community, police
Sikes Stagmeier Morningstar McFadden and King
Law-enforcement officials participate in a forum held March 30 by the Liberty County NAACP. Shown from left are Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes, Hinesville Police Chief George Stagmeier, Midway Police Chief Kelli Morningstar, Walthourville Police Chief Tracy McFadden and Lt. Thornell King of the Georgia State Patrol. - photo by Randy Murray

The Liberty County Branch of the NAACP recently held what was widely viewed as a successful, well-attended Community Policing Awareness forum.

So what happens next?

Branch President Graylan Quarterman said he would like to see his organization develop a panel whose purpose would be to develop a partnership between Liberty County residents and law-enforcement agencies.

He said he plans to approach Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes and the mayors of the municipalities about forming what he refers to as a community-partnership group.

“If there are issues that (are) going on in the community that deal with policing and these elected officials or folks working in those departments don’t know about it, this group can filter that information in,” Quarterman said. “And if there is information inside of the law-enforcement community or policing community, our elected officials and our staff employees, this group can filter that information back out to the community — being proactive.”

Such dialogue, he said, could go a long way toward soothing tension and keeping the peace in the event — “God forbid,” Quarterman said — of an incident happening such as the officer-involved shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer.

“In other words, the community knows that they’ve got a voice within the system, and the system knows it’s got a voice in in the community,” he said. “That’s community policing.”

Quarterman said there are people “who don’t believe they have a voice,” and this panel is an opportunity “to give them that voice.”

He said he hopes the community will get to learn through this new partnership what their law-enforcement agencies do beyond arresting suspects — that their mission is “to protect and serve.”

“I believe that in our community, folks believe that community policing is to protect,” Quarterman said. The serve component of it has been … put in the shadow. The police do serve, but the community (doesn’t) see that service a lot of times.”

He said many people don’t see when officers stop to help someone whose vehicle is broken down at the side of the road.

“I don’t believe people understand that 10 percent of the police job, 10-20 percent, is the protection and criminal side,” he said. “Eighty percent is service side, if they’re truly doing their job. But folks don’t see that. All they see is what’s considered to be, for lack of a better term, the bad stuff.”

There has been much tense debate around the country since Ferguson and other high-profile cases of black men dying after being shot, or otherwise on the receiving end of force, by police officers, as well as several high-profile cases of police officers being fatally shot. Some of those incidents, most notably in Ferguson, led to violent protests — a situation Quarterman hopes the partnership in Liberty County will help prevent.

“Just thinking about what’s going on around the country, this community called Liberty, we’re much better than that,” he said. “And I think when we all work together, we can demonstrate that to the world. And that’s what I’d like to see.”

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