At an Oct. 6 Bethlehem City Council meeting, Councilman J. William Reynolds proposed a community engagement initiative in which members of council would compile a monthly list of events happening in the community and release it through city communication channels. The goal of the initiative is to bolster community involvement and create a forum for necessary conversations surrounding systemic racism and equal opportunities for all members of the Bethlehem community.
The Brown and White spoke with Reynolds about his new initiative.
Q: What is the goal of this initiative?
Councilman J. William Reynolds: I want this to be a permanent space in the community where organizations are able to organize and structure the conversations and elected officials, police officers and others in positions of authority are listening. I am hoping that these conversations will eventually lead to policy suggestions about somethings that the City of Bethlehem might want to do in order to tackle these issues in society.
Q: Has there been anything specific that drove this initiative?
JWR: During 2020, people have been looking for some more conversations about both systemic racism and the interaction between members of our community and people in authority, especially law enforcement. A lot of those conversations have been going on in the community. One of the things I thought needed to happen was more of a bridge built between those community conversations and our police department.
Q: Has this solely been a council driven initiative?
JWR: This idea had been originally brought up by one of my colleagues a few months ago, Grace Crampsie Smith, another member of the city council. We were responding to what we thought we were hearing in the community. There are a lot of organizations such as non-profits, social services that are dedicated to the issues of racism and equity. I believe that one of those things the conversations were missing whether or not they were forums, meetings or conferences is real interaction with our police department and people in positions of authority in our community.
Q: There have been many instances of political brutality and racial problems as of late. Has that impacted the relationship between the Bethlehem police and the community?
JWR: What we have seen nationally has started conversations about a lot of these issues. What has happened in Minnesota and throughout the country in 2020 has led everybody to look at themselves and ask what is going on in our community and are we doing enough about systemic racism.
Q: How will officers be involved in these events?
JWR: A lot of time what ends up happening is that we end up seeing the chief or the deputy chief or the same couple of officers that show up to these meetings. If we are going to create real change, then we need to broaden the amount of police officers that are engaged with the community and with these conversations. I am excited that the new chief is going to organize ways for the new officers to become involved in these conversations. One of the things about the community engagement initiative that is important is bringing these events to the police chief and asking how the police department can be involved in those conversations.
Q: Will all these events be virtual?
JWR: For now, most of them will be, at least for the first couple of months. However, the idea behind the community engagement initiative is that it is going to be a permanent structure where these conversations on equity, systemic racism and on increasing opportunities for everyone in Bethlehem are able to occur. I hope that a lot of these conversations will show the connection between societal failures and how it eventually leads to involvement of the police.
Q: How do you ensure all voices are heard?
JWR: The idea is that the members of council and the mayor’s office will have the opportunity to submit these events that are going on in the community. Some of these events may be run by the City of Bethlehem, and others are planned in the community organically. The idea is that, once we find out about it, we can help get the word out about those meetings to the community. We want to broaden how many people are able to have their voices heard in these conversations. I do think that it is important these meetings are not organized by the city because I want the people involved in these organizations to dictate the structure of how these conversations will go on.
Q: What is the method used to ensure representation of all groups?
JWR: On city council, we have a broad representation of members of different backgrounds and with different experiences. I reach out to a lot of organizations that put on these events on a regular basis, and I have asked them to let me know when they are having events and if we can be a part of it. It is really going to come down to our ability to talk about these events and let people know that there are these opportunities out there.