Even though there hasn’t been a single Black Lives Matter protest in the predominantly White city of Canal Fulton, Ohio, their White police chief wrote an article welcoming them, saying “the Black community needs us.”
Doug Swartz, Canal Fulton’s police chief of eight years, writes a column for a community newsletter quarterly tackling a variety of topics. This month, he focused on the Black Lives Matter movement after seeing several people on his social media feeds asking why it was necessary to demonstrate, especially in the small town of Canal Fulton with a population just under 5,500. Canal Fulton is about 50 miles south of Cleveland.
Thousands have demonstrated in communities across the world to protest and demand racial justice in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. The 46-year-old Black man died May 25 at the hands of Minneapolis police with his last moments caught on video. About 93% of racial justice protests in the US since Floyd’s death have been peaceful and nondestructive, according to a new report.
Swartz’s commentary gained traction outside of the newsletter and a condensed version was published in the local paper, The Canton Repository.
“If we truly seek fulfillment in our lives, the White community also needs the Black community just as much, if not more,” Swartz wrote. “Our continuously intersecting lives will always be contentious if we don’t stop and take time to actively listen to one another and understand.”
Bridging the gap between races
A few residents tried to organize protests in Canal Fulton, according to Swartz, but due to lack of manpower and the coronavirus pandemic, the demonstrations never materialized.
After her grandson made a Facebook post about why Black lives matter, Roslyn Haines, a Black minister in town, told CNN she was inspired and wanted to do something. Haines and a few other residents came together to form the group “Bridging The Gap.”
“It’s to bridge the gap of all races, all groups so that there is total peace and no misunderstandings,” she said. “Along with the violence, the racism, has to stop.”
Haines grew up in Akron but relocated to Canal Fulton a few years ago and said she’s never experienced racism directly, but like anywhere, she said she knows it’s out there.
“It’s a good community to live in and I’m glad that I live out here, I just want to see people come together,” she said. “And if it spreads here in Canal Fulton, it can spread across the United States.”
Even though “Bridging The Gap” had to push pause on their efforts, Haines said the group is in the planning stages for another rally next year.
“If a small city like Canal Fulton can come together as one, then other cities will see that and from there it would be like a domino effect,” she said. “Sometimes we have to start small in order to get really big.”
Fixing the ‘atrocities that occurred just a few short decades ago’
To understand why peaceful protests are important, particularly in small towns, Swartz said it’s vital to understand the role American history played.
Though the United States declared its independence on July 4, 1776, Swartz wrote he personally feels the country wasn’t a “free nation” until the 13th Amendment in 1865, which abolished slavery. But even then, he said, “was the African American race truly a free race after that day? Free of racism and discrimination?”
Because Canal Fulton is predominantly White, Swartz said the community is blind to the struggles of their Black neighbors.
“How do you know about it, if you don’t know about it,” he said. “If there are struggles that are going on in predominately Black neighborhoods, we don’t know about it, our kids go to schools that are predominately White. And we’re a byproduct of that history with the things that are wrong in today’s society, that’s why we have to listen to people and hear from them to see how we can make things better.”
Swartz said ultimately, it’s the responsibility of all communities, big or small, to “move resources to help fix today the aftermath of the atrocities that occurred just a few short decades ago.”
“In summary, African Americans had little family, religion, education, or wealth to go with their newly found freedoms nor to rectify the generations of wrongs they received,” Swartz wrote. “They were in no position to stop what was coming next, which was a century long of practices of discrimination, racism, segregation, and manipulating African Americans of being inferior to the White supremacy.”
“Everyone on this earth older than 56 years of age, lived in a time when African Americans were barred from using bathrooms that were labeled, ‘Whites Only.’ What message do you think that sent our parents and grandparents? That message was that of Blacks being less of a person than that a White person.”
Able to grow by listening to the struggles of marginalized communities
“I’m starting to understand this message is bigger than I intended it to be,” Swartz said. “I’m struggling though to understand why it is getting so much attention when you can find all this information on the internet, but I guess it’s coming from the position of a small town police chief in America.”
The positive emails and feedback have continued to pour in since the article published, he said.
Swartz admits in his younger years he may have said or thought differently, but because he dove deeper into history and listened to the struggles of marginalized communities, he was able to grow and write this commentary piece.
“To do this, African Americans are going to need the vast majority of support (votes) to help enact legislation which will help move critical resources and funding into areas such as our education and housing systems,” he wrote. “That means you and me here in Canal Fulton. That means protesting in little towns to help bring awareness to these issues that are still in the shadows of the discriminatory practices occurring in the 60s. That means our citizens helping to understand what African Americans in other communities are currently struggling with as it will be our vote and support that helps.”
“It begins by active listening and the understanding of our long-term goals, even well past our own lives, as well as history’s misdeeds,” he wrote. “Recognizing the rights of everyone including the right to peacefully protest, wherever and whenever, is a key element of fostering change for any good cause.”
Swartz said even though past protests didn’t materialize, he would gladly welcome any future peaceful demonstrations within the community and support residents in their efforts.
“No matter what the cause is, we have to be able to say ‘that’s great, that’s the American way,’ that’s what you’re allowed to do and anyone who is trying to stop someone from practicing their constitutional rights needs to stop and think about what they’re actually doing,” he said.