This is not a time when the American people have a lot of trust in their political institutions. I’ve learned this working on various political campaigns in Greenville through the years. I saw it in my fight to try to stop the ravages of gentrification in our city. And I saw it again working with organizations like the Greenville NAACP and others in the constant struggle to register people to vote.
“Y’all only come around when you want a vote. Never when we need you.”
That phrase, the phrase I hear far too often, lingered in my mind as I took over the Greenville Young Democrats last fall.
It should be the goal of those involved in politics not to be self-serving but to serve the people and to make life better for future generations. That is why it has been the goal of the Greenville Young Democrats to be less of a political organization and more of a grass-roots community organization, dedicated to making Greenville the great place we know it can be.
It is why we host fish-fry fundraisers for groups like the Phillis Wheatley Community Center. It is why we hold toy drives for the children of Frazee Dream Center during the Christmas season. It is why we held food drives for St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church so they can continue feeding the poor of our community.
It is in that spirit of bettering Greenville that we will host a forum for the youth of Greenville with Greenville City Police Chief Ken Miller and Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis.
The history of law enforcement, not only in Greenville but also throughout the United States, has too often been perilous. Black Americans who marched in the civil rights movement knew this when they were beaten by police batons for taking rides for freedom throughout the South in the early 1960s. They learned this when they faced Bull Connor in the streets of Birmingham, Ala., and Jim Clark on that sacred bridge in Selma, Ala.
Our Latino community has seen it as they’ve faced the stigma of racial profiling and the slur of being deemed “illegal,” with many law-abiding immigrants of that community facing deportation and demagoguery. Our Muslim community has seen it, as they’ve contended with the rise of Islamophobia in the aftermath of 9/11; confronted with constant vilification and distortions of their faith, they have had to remain ever vigilant, lest they suffer the generalization others have sought to put on them. Our LGBT community is still facing discrimination and even the threat of violence simply for being who they are.
These are a few of the many reasons why this forum with Greenville law enforcement is so pivotal. We will make a mistake if we think Greenville isn’t susceptible to the precarious dynamics we see playing out between police and many historically disadvantaged communities nationally. That is why I am so thankful to Police Chief Ken Miller and Sheriff Will Lewis for agreeing to participate. I’m thankful that grass-roots organizations like Greenville BlackLivesMatter, the Hispanic Alliance, the Islamic Society, Rehinge, and GenderBenders have agreed to participate, representing the youth of so many of our communities.
The mistrust in many of these communities toward law enforcement runs deep. For the police chief and the sheriff to be willing to join this effort and build these bridges gives me hope for improving relations and making Greenville a shining city on a hill, an example for the nation.
That is the purpose of the Greenville Young Democrats and what we strive to do. From the BlackLivesMatter protests in downtown Greenville last summer to the more recent protests we’ve seen on behalf of immigrants and refugees, historic injustices have come to the forefront of the conversation here in town.
This forum is the beginning of making Greenville a more just place. A place that recognizes the sins of the past and seeks to overcome them. The beginning of building a community we can be proud of. So we can finally be #yeahTHATGreenville.
The Greenville Young Democrats Youth and Law Enforcement Forum will be held at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church on March 23, 6–7:30pm. It will be moderated by Eryn Rogers of 7 News.
Jalen Elrod is the president of the Greenville Young Democrats.