JAAA co-vice president and women’s soccer coach Jonathan Garbar called the event an “eye-opening” “reality check.”
“Many of us walked away feeling both appreciative and empathic towards the challenges that our law enforcement officials face,” Garbar said. “However, it was also evident that we all (law enforcement included) have an incredible amount of work to do in regards to understanding that the majority of what our community faces on a daily basis, is not black and white, but truly complex. There is an abundance of gray area to navigate, analyze and challenge.”
Rindge Police Chief Dan Anair was the panel’s local law enforcement representative. Speaking over Zoom to about 55 virtual attendees and another 40 gathered under a tent on the FPU campus, Anair said he hoped to rehabilitate the Rindge department’s relationship with FPU students.
“One thing I’ve wanted to change is when the students see the blue lights and the Rindge police cruiser on campus, they think ‘uh-oh, someone’s going away in bracelets,’” Anair said. “I didn’t like that, and I still don’t like that feeling.”
Anair and Garbar worked together over the summer to create an environment in which FPU student-athletes could demonstrate for social and racial justice safely. Garbar and some Ravens athletes participated in small demonstrations and founded JAAA “to serve as a platform in which effective expression, progressive education and thoughtful action are sponsored and celebrated,” the group’s mission statement read.
Anair said he, like many law enforcement officers in New Hampshire, participated in hundreds of hours of training following George Floyd’s death in police custody this May, and was receptive to working with Franklin Pierce students to create a better relationship. FPU, with students from all over the United State and around the world, is an oasis of diversity in Rindge, which was found to be 94 percent white in a 2019 government study. With differing backgrounds come differing viewpoints. JAAA organizers expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement along with other key tenets like fighting against sexual violence and for more mental health support; Anair, citing several incidents of vandalism and theft of BLM signs as well as “community kickback” against FPU protest demonstrations, said he thought the majority of the Rindge community did not support Black Lives Matter.
“Trying to have the community have a better understanding of what the whole movement is trying to accomplish is difficult,” Anair said, “because these types of talks are not happening. They’re uncomfortable, they’re tough, and sometimes it’s easier to just say ‘I don’t agree with it, and I don’t want to give.’”
While open to communication, many of the law enforcement panelists did not display much willingness to give, either. When asked about the concept of “defunding the police,” retired New Jersey officer David Berez and Davie, Florida officer Dwaymon Cason both echoed the commonly espoused rhetoric that the first thing to go in funding cuts is training – which police departments need now more than ever in the wake of several high-profile cases of misconduct.
“Cops don’t like change, and they don’t like things the way they are,” Anair said.
One FPU student said that sometimes, no matter how polite and compliant people act with the police, certain officers will go out of their way to harass or hurt people on any given night. Cason, who is black, agreed with that sentiment, saying he has had the same conversations with his own children that some of FPU’s student-athletes have had with their parents – namely, what to do when you run into a police officer who’s treating you unfairly? Cason said that there are some officers on some days that just can’t be reasoned with, and all you can really do is focus on staying safe and getting home.
“Don’t break your code, continue to be nice, and get home,” Cason said. Cason also admitted that many police officers have an unspoken code of their own to not report misconduct by fellow officers, but said he hoped the high-profile, video-recorded incidents like George Floyd’s death would lead to more whistle-blowing.
“No one wants to be that officer who just stood there and did nothing,” Cason said.
And when asked about whether police departments really need expensive, military-grade equipment and weapons, panelists agreed that that level of weaponry is needed in order to “fight fire with fire.”
“I know there are houses in our community that would completely outgun our department,” Anair said.
JAAA organizers saw Monday’s event as the first step on the long road toward justice.
“Knowing that the majority of the Rindge community may not support BLM is just one of the reasons that makes us that more passionate about JAAA,” said co-president and track athlete Alena Masterson. “We want not only our campus, but the entire community to be changed for the better. To have all people feel safe and included.”
For more information on upcoming events, find the JAAA on Twitter or Instagram at @FPURavens_JAAA.