Conference weighs direction of black community

June 05, 1994|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

Cheryle Collins, who works for Catonsville Community College, wants a focus on positive role models for black youngsters.

Stuart O. Simms, the state's attorney for Baltimore, said the future of democracy depends on how the black community moves forward.

These subjects and certain perceptions by the black community were discussed at a conference on "Self-Empowering the African-American Community" yesterday at Randallstown High School.

The conference was sponsored by the Baltimore County office of Minority Affairs and the Baltimore Times, a weekly newspaper.

Ms. Collins, director of Multi-Cultural Student Services at Catonsville Community College, said the media could help by noting the successes of black youngsters and that educational institutions could help by creating more multicultural programs.

The college sponsors several such programs, including forums between Jewish and black citizens, and a "diversity week" for all students that highlights the common ground among the races and ethnic groups.

Mr. Simms, yesterday's keynote speaker, told the group that blacks need leadership from within to give everyone the "big picture."

"Use existing structures, like the church, schools and your government, to move ahead," he advised. "Don't try to reinvent the wheel every time you meet a problem.

"We have to unify as a community, expand our horizons, set objectives and work in incremental steps to move ahead," he said.

Attorney Alfred Nance moderated a panel on law enforcement that included county Circuit Judge John Hennegan, county Police Chief Michael Gambrill, District Judge Michael McCampbell and county State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor.

Mr. Nance said some blacks believe that the Police Department doesn't respond as quickly or as well to their complaints as it does to calls from whites and that blacks are not treated with enough respect by county police.

Chief Gambrill said that the department keeps track of response time and that he saw no difference in the response to calls from blacks and whites.

The chief noted that the Police Department has a diversity training program and said that there must be a "greater understanding on both sides." He said the Department is working to improve its relations with residents.

About 9 percent of the 1,500 county officers on the street are minorities.

"We're going to add 100 more officers in the next few months and use them to build bridges to the community," Mr. Gambrill said. He said that about 20 percent of the 115 officers in training are minorities.

Someone in the audience asked Ms. O'Connor how the upper echelon of the drug trade is being attacked.

"They're mostly white," the questioner said, "and I don't see much about them being arrested."

Ms. O'Connor noted that drug leaders are much harder to catch because they keep themselves removed from street activities.

"We have to use wiretaps, and it's difficult to get permission from the courts for them," she said. "You can't do it at random, you have to show probable cause to legally tap a phone.

"But we're working with federal law enforcement agencies on that," she said. "It's more complicated, and it takes longer."

The conference also featured workshops on minority business development, education, the black church and the media, and a panel discussion on effective black participation in politics.

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