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Black/Brown Unity Coalition, FLOC, Latins United, call for police recruits, reform


By La Prensa Staff


The Black/Brown Unity Coalition took its cause of promoting civil rights to the larger metro Toledo community at a peace rally held Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020 outside the UAW Local #12 union hall. About 100—all masked—attended!


The coalition is encouraging police agencies in Lucas County to adopt a police code of conduct for how officers and the public should act during encounters, as well as encourage central city residents of color to apply to become part of the next Toledo police recruit class next year.


The coalition was formed by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), Latins United, the Toledo NAACP chapter, and other community groups in 2017. Since then, the coalition has established itself as a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization, passed bylaws, and elected a board.


“We’ve very diligently and very methodically worked to institutionalize the group before going all out,” said Baldemar Velásquez, FLOC founder and president. “So now we’re ready to use it as an engine, as a vehicle to drive the Black/Brown Unity Coalition city-wide and county-wide.”


The coalition is working to avoid the chaos and violence that erupted in Toledo over the summer that led to broken windows, vandalism, and use of tear gas following the police-involved death of George Floyd and others across the country. The group’s leaders are hoping a proactive dialogue and demands of city and county leaders from an organized coalition speaking with one voice can effect change in police tactics rather than calls to defund law enforcement.


“Can you imagine hundreds of Latino and black residents working collectively in a democratic fashion, electing their leadership council and agreeing on the issues that are common to us, and working to leverage socially, politically, and economically some changes that would eliminate some of the institutionalized barriers for upward mobility for our communities,” said Velásquez.


While the coalition continues to build momentum and membership, the first order of business will be to pressure Toledo’s mayor and police chief to formally adopt a “code of conduct” between Toledo police and city residents. Then-Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and current Police Chief George Kral each attended a signing ceremony for the code of conduct in November 2017.


The code calls on community members to cooperate with police investigations with respectful behavior, keeping hands in plain sign, and avoiding “excessive movement” a police officer may not be able to monitor during a traffic stop. On the flip side, the code guarantees a citizen can ask for an officer’s name and badge number during an encounter.


In turn, police officers are expected to remain calm, use de-escalation techniques where possible, and avoid using force on people either handcuffed or restrained “unless it is objectively reasonable and necessary.”


One person who can relate to both sides of current police-public tensions is Latins United President Usevio “Chevo” Torres, who has served two decades as a Lucas County sheriff’s deputy. He is now a coalition board member.


“You’ve got your good ones and you’ve got your bad ones. But all this protest and violence is not acceptable. That’s why we’re promoting this, a police code of conduct so it doesn’t get to that point here in Toledo,” Torres said. “I hope people can see I’m coming from both sides, but we’ve both got to work together as part of the community so we can move forward and we don’t have that kind of protest here again. We want to sit down at the table and discuss the situation and the problems.”


“We want to promote solutions. We really want to generate community policing. We want to improve the relationship between community and police and it goes both ways,” said Velásquez. “We suggest in the code of conduct they each take an hour out of their shift, park their car, knock on doors and introduce themselves to residents so they know who they are and they know who the residents are. That way when they see them on the street, they can call them by name, not ‘Hey you’ or look at us like automatic suspects.”


The mayor and chief of police in Mansfield, Ohio, recently adopted a code of conduct based on the one developed by the Black/Brown Unity Coalition. Ray Woodlocal NAACP president— stated a willingness to help other communities peacefully resolve any police-public tensions, adding “we know what it takes here” in order to “work better together than we can divided.”


“As a matter of fact, we’re leading the other cities around the state. Other cities around the country are trying to model what we’re doing here,” said Wood. “We’re just trying to think outside the box to make sure we’re leaving no stone unturned and we’re doing what needs to be done for all of us to come together.”


“It’s got to come from the community—this is what we need,” said Torres. “We need these rules in there and hopefully we can get the backing of the people in the community to start doing this, they accept this. We’ve got to let our voices be heard. We need to show up strong so they hear us. We’re tired and we’re not going to be sitting in the back anymore. We need to step forward and do something about it.”


Another coalition goal is to encourage Toledo police to actively recruit in the central city for minority candidates to take the police exam and join the city’s next class of police recruits. A police sergeant from TPD’s recruiting unit set up an information table at the peace rally.


“It’s critical. It’s so important in communities of color, they need to see someone who looks like them,” added Wood. “They need to know someone can understand some of the things by the culture of growing up a certain way. Right now, a new police class, coming out of the central city and with the history of what’s happened and what we expect to happen, is critical.”


“When you have an officer from the suburbs patrolling the inner city, it looks like alien territory to him,” said Velásquez. “We want people who are familiar with our neighborhoods and familiar with the residents to collaborate and work together on that, because we as Latinos and, in particular, the undocumented immigrants that live in our city—8,000 to 10,000 of them—we want to have confidence that police are going to listen to us and the crimes committed against us without fear of deportation.”


“Hopefully they do better training for these new officers because of everything that’s going on,” added Torres.


Velásquez emphasized the two sides must get to know each other better, rebuild trust, and return to community policing with a big difference this time. He noted there was never a citizen-run organization pushing for and supporting community policing, which may make it even more sustainable as a relationship-building process.


“Now is the time. This happened for a reason. We’re in this climate for a reason, this atmosphere for a reason—and we think it’s going to work out for the best,” said Wood.

Coalition memberships are $10 for an individual, $100 for an organization. For more information or to join the coalition, email iayers@floc.com or jgreene4111@yahoo.com.





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Revised: 10/06/20 21:54:51 -0700.




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