An event organized before the police-involved shooting of Michael Dean dealt with that tragic death and other concerns Saturday.
Temple residents and community leaders discussed policing, education and economics in a town hall meeting at St. James United Methodist Church.
Among the major announcements at the meeting, Terris Goodwin, who started the Change.org petition on Justice for Michael Dean that had more than 6,400 signatures as of Saturday, told the audience of more than 150 that she is starting a separate petition for a police oversight committee for Temple. Dean was shot on Dec. 2, 2019.
Temple Mayor Tim Davis admitted “we weren’t ready” for something like an officer-involved shooting. “Our biggest failure is we didn’t have a communications policy in place,” he said, adding that he would like to apologize to the Dean family. He noted that Dean’s father worked for the city, having recently retired.
He said he would be meeting with a crisis management team on Feb. 4 to get advice on how to handle future situations.
The Rev. Charles Robinson, the church pastor, asked prepared questions and fielded others from the audience for the six panelists: Davis, Temple NAACP President Bennie Walsh, Temple interim Police Chief Jim Tobin, Un-Included Club Executive Director Doree Collins, Kim White, co-founder of the 411 House, and Lisa Adams, superintendent of curriculum for Temple schools.
Robinson started with questions about economics, which quickly got into the subject of education. There were a lot of questions from the floor, and he said that he and the meeting’s organizer, Wil White, were already hoping to make the forum a quarterly event.
Solutions instead of problems should be the focus, Robinson said.
“We organized this event before the tragedy of Michael Dean,” he said. “There are a number of other people who have died … How do we prevent things like the Michael Dean tragedy from happening in the future?”
He read Matthew 22:34-40, where Jesus answered a lawyer’s question about which was the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law ...”
It is fitting to talk about love as the nation is about to celebrate the life of “the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,” Robinson said. “I like to put the reverend in there. He came out of the church.”
Everyone is committed to love their neighbor, Robinson said. He then instructed those in the audience to turn to their neighbor and say: “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
One of the first questions about the economy was: Where in Temple can we go to find jobs?
Davis said the Workforce Development Center in the new Santa Fe Business Center is a federal and state funded organization with the mission of helping people find jobs. Workforce also helps train people for jobs that are becoming available, he said.
Walsh said Temple schools have started vocational education programs.
“We know a lot of our children aren’t going to complete college,” he said.
Adams said that the school’s career center helps students work toward various certifications. Answering the question of how students are chosen for this program, Adams said the planning begins in the eighth grade. Every child has to choose an “endorsement,” which is like a vocational major. The students meet with their counselors and parents and consider career options, she said.
“We look at each student and what they need,” she said.
Speaking from the floor, Temple Mayor pro tem Judy Morales said things were being done to help people get back in the work force. She cited a hospitality certification program as having opened doors for people.
“It’s really working,” she said. “We’re hoping to expand it.”
Collins, Adams and Walsh agreed that some students need advocates and there could be improvement in this area. Walsh said this might be a team of parents going into schools as student advocates.
Robinson asked what are some of the greatest challenges within the school district. Adams said many students have emotional health problems, and that teachers aren’t trained to deal with some of these issues.
“That’s the rising challenge for us,” she said.
Another challenge the city faces is the perception among many in the community that police stop and harass black people. A majority of the black people in attendance raised their hands when asked if they had ever been harassed by an officer.
Tobin said that anyone who thinks they were stopped improperly can make a complaint. Even if they aren’t willing to sign a complaint, he said, they can report it and the officer’s supervisor can look over the stop to see if the officer acted appropriately.
On the Dean case, Tobin said the policy was to have an outside agency investigate any officer-involved shooting to be sure it was done fairly. He noted people’s frustration with the lack of information and said he had heard the district attorney expected the Texas Rangers to wrap up the investigation very soon.
COMING MONDAY: More on town hall meeting
Staff writer Jerry Prickett contributed to this story