LIMA – Officials with the Lima chapter of the NAACP on Wednesday set out to reshape the public perception of the organization by singing the praises of local law enforcement officials and cops on the street.
During a noon press conference, NAACP executive board member and spokesman Ray Magnus, along with chapter President Ron Fails, seemed eager to steer the public perception of the NAACP from one which exists primarily to take the law enforcement community to task over alleged police misdeeds to that of a civil rights organization focused on protecting the interests of all members of the community.
“Contrary to popular belief, we are not here today to trash the police. We are here to commend the Lima Police Department,” Magnus said in kicking off the event at the Grace Church World Wide Ministries.
While the local NAACP has been vocal in recent months surrounding several incidents which some residents claim demonstrated excessive force and unprofessional tactics on the part of police, Magnus said that for every complaint brought to public light by the organization, nine others are dismissed as unwarranted.
“Recently there have been several situations in which the local NAACP chapter was contacted. Whenever we get a complaint we do a fact-finding investigation and interview to see if the police were overly zealous, aggressive or biased in their enforcement. Out of every 10 complaints we receive, we accept only one or two to get involved with,” Magnus said.
He cited a pair of examples, including that of a young man who was tased by police. “After conducting interviews and reading the police report it was disclosed to us that the young man actually lunged at police,” Magnus said. “That’s a bad mistake.”
In another example, Magnus said a 60-plus-year-old woman was arrested for disorderly conduct after ignoring repeated requests by police to leave the scene of a confrontation. He said the NAACP supported the decision to arrest the woman.
“Folks, we — the NAACP — think these officers acted with great restraint and professionalism. When someone has been asked or told many times to remove themselves from a confrontation and refuses to do so, you really aren’t giving the police much of a choice,” said Magnus. “The police are there to protect all citizens and the neighborhoods. So, Lima, when you are asked to vacate an area, please do so. Don’t argue with police doing their job.”
While the tone of Wednesday’s press conference was mostly positive, it stopped short of turning into an all-out love fest with police. Asked about the current relationship between the NAACP and law enforcement, Magnus admitted, “It’s a little strained.”
But he said the relationship is not beyond repair.
“We need to have an open dialogue with the Lima Police Department just like we do with the sheriff’s office, and we will be taking steps to correct some of the issues we see,” said Magnus.
Magnus said the organization is disappointed in the pace with which the LPD is moving to acquire body cameras for its officers.
“Hopefully it will happen later this year. I think that will solve a lot of issues on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
Magnus said the organization will continue in its mission to represent citizens in cases of overzealous police actions.
“If the police are wrong in the performance of their duties, come to us and we will arbitrate on your behalf,” he said.
Reach J Swygart at 567-242-0464.