Decatur racial profiling concerns folded into larger discussion about diversity

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt May 5, 2015
Cover Photo from the Charter for Compassion's 2013 annual report.

Cover Photo from the Charter for Compassion’s 2013 annual report.

Allegations of racial profiling by Decatur Police got the City Commission’s attention.

But rather than address the issue on its own terms, the commission has expanded the discussion. A city consultant, The Art of Community, has put together a Leadership Circle of residents and city employees. The group has been meeting since last year, according to the city’s Decatur Next website. It is developing recommendations for the City Commission about how to move forward with a community-wide conversation about diversity.

The effort is called Better Together, described as “a citizen-led, government supported effort to build deeper connection, understanding, and mutual respect among the Decatur community.”

“The process will facilitate a lengthy community conversation that explores our strengths, weaknesses, perspectives and misunderstandings,” the Decatur Next website says. “Taking shape as a variety of citizen-participation opportunities later this year, it will culminate in the creation of a tangible Community Action Plan.”

The line connecting racial profiling concerns to the Leadership Circle and Better Together may not be clear to everyone, however.

During the May 4 meeting, Chris Billingsley, a retired Decatur High teacher, asked commissioners why the Leadership Circle’s meetings have not been advertised and made open to the public. He said he was concerned that the board doesn’t include diversity of thought as well as a diversity of racial backgrounds.

“I am concerned about open government,” he told the City Commission. “I have never seen a public announcement about where and when the group meets. It is in my opinion a poor way to start such an important process.”

Commissioners said there will be an opportunity for the public to participate. The Leadership Circle is helping to create roadmap for how the city moves forward.

“This group is operating in the same manner that any number of task forces have operated in,” Mayor Jim Baskett told Billingsley. “They will come to us with some recommendations. Any decisions will be made by this body.”

Linda Harris, a member of the Leadership Circle who is also the city’s assistant director for community and economic development, the “community action plan” will help the city address issues surrounding Decatur’s plummeting diversity.

“Ultimately at the very end there would be a community action plan as to how are we going to keep these conversations going around being welcoming,” Harris said. “What are things we can do? What do we as a community want to see happen?”

According to a report produced over the summer by an intern, whites accounted for 60 percent of the city’s population in 1990, while blacks accounted for almost 40 percent. According to the 2010 census, about 73 percent of the city’s population was white and 20 percent was black. The remainder of the population was non-black minority, which includes Hispanics.

Commissioners last year began to focus on the topic after hearing from Don Denard, a former Decatur School Board member. He said police racially profiled him while he was walking down his own street. While the Police Department’s investigation of Denard’s case ultimately cleared its officer of wrongdoing, his concerns opened up a wider discussion about incidents involving other black men and police officers.

In response, the Police Department began tracking the ethnicity of people stopped by officers. The first report produced by police found that 56 percent of the police department’s stops involve minorities. Police officers also completed a training session with the Anti-Defamation League’s A World of Difference Institute.

Last April, Decatur signed onto the Charter for Compassion and became a “Compassionate City.”  Commissioners later adopted “A Community Action Plan for a Compassionate Decatur.”

That plan that included a $25,000 contract awarded to The Art of Community for facilitating the diversity discussion, which in turn led to the Leadership Circle being created, Harris said. Decatur Police Chief Mike Booker is a member of the Leadership Circle. To see a full list of members, click here.

The description of Better Together and the Leadership Council on the Decatur Next website does not mention “racial profiling” or attempt to connect the issue with what Leadership Council is doing. Harris said racial profiling is one of the topics the council will consider.

If the Commission approves the Leadership Circle’s recommendations, the formal community-wide discussion will begin in August or September, according to the city’s website.

About Dan Whisenhunt

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  • Eric

    Mr. Billingsley should just accept the fact that diversity of thought will never be accepted in Decatur. The overwhelming majority of San Francisco-style liberals in this town are too caught up in their own preening self-righteousness to accept any thoughts that stray from their own.

    The irony is that these supposedly open-minded people are incredibly closed-minded when someone expresses an opinion that doesn’t match with theirs. The vitriol and hatred hurled Mr. B’s way in other local public forums very clearly illustrates my point.

    • Bill Jones

      Amen. The city determined that there was no racial profiling in Mr. Dennard’s case after an internal investigation. Case closed? Heck no. The city than pays $25K to a “consultant” and democratizes the alleged profiling by police to the citizens. Why do I need to have a conversation as to how I can welcome minorities because of alleged profiling that an officer did, but didn’t do because it was determined it wasn’t done. Non-sequitirs anyone?
      Decatur is 4 square miles. The minority population has dropped. In Gwinnett, it has surged. In the metro area in general, it has surged. Demographics of metro areas shift and people migrate from one area to another over time. So what?
      You have politicians throwing money at a non-problem and appealing to white guilt. Really poor leadership.

    • Will

      I think this statement is very judgmental. You don’t personally know the majority of Decatur, so how can you confrontationally label a group of 20,000 people? Closed mindedness is well staffed on both the conservative and liberal ends of the spectrum. Statements like this reinforce those tendencies.

    • Will

      I meant to also state I support CB’s challenge to the vague agendas. I clearly don’t agree with his politics, but he challenges other peoples agendas without being rude. I respect the bravery to challenges the status quo. His critics and his supporters are less challenging and more disrespectful. Using a statement like “preening self righteous” is a diatribe, not a discussion.

  • An American Patriot

    Well, folks, let’s face it…..Decatur has become an elitist city. What’s made it an elitist place?……believe it or not, the very thing that has made it a great place to live and raise a family……Schools, Churches and Homes. Not diverse enough?……surely, you jest…’s the most liberal city in the whole State of Georgia. This is much ado about nothing. The City should start focusing their attention on things that matter.

  • Chris Billingsley

    Thanks Dan. I maintain that these meeting are either illegal or a continuation of the group think mentality that led to the disasterous roll out of the tree ordinance (or both). Below is the request I made to the city commission on May 4. Please note that it is the secrecy of the leadership circle that bothers me the most.

    May 4, 2015
    City of Decatur Commissioners

    My name is Chris Billingsley, .

    I want to thank you for the Decatur Focus. I’ve always enjoyed this magazine. The most recent issue arrived in the mail last Saturday and after a long day working in the yard, I looked forward to reading the publication and discussing with my wife the future events and activities that look appealing and what we missed. Even though I know more about our municipal government, city schools, and local news than the average citizen, I still learn something new every time I read the Decatur Focus. It is a fine publication.

    What brings me to tonight’s meeting however is the article on page four, “Leadership Circle Works Towards Launch. The article vaguely describes the work so far of a group of selected volunteers whose recommendations to the commission later this year could change our town as much as the Strategic Plan has over the past fifteen years. I went to the link at for more information on the group. For a city so concerned about diversity, I find it troubling that the majority of the members appear to be either city employees or paid consultants. It appears to me that representation in small but influential religious and ethnic groups was an important consideration for membership in the leadership circle. Even though I appreciate that our police chief is part of the group, he works for the city. How hard can he fight the effort to weaken the authority of the police as a paid employee? I am concerned that our faith institutions, especially those that represent long held traditional beliefs, do not have a representative that will fight for separation of church and state. But more than anything else, I am concerned about open government. As far as I am aware of, this group meets in secret. I have never seen a public announcement that states when and where the group meets or a summary of what was discussed. I don’t know if this is illegal but it is, in my opinion, a poor way to start such an important process. Busy citizens may not be able to attend many meetings but it is our right to attend government functions and these rights must be defended.

    Normally I would expect the fine reporters from the AJC and Decaturish to challenge this lack of transparency but so far, I’ve been disappointed. Therefore I am requesting that the commission direct the city manager to require that all future meetings of the leadership circle be announced in advance, be held at a public location and open to all who wish to attend. I also request that the leaders of this group provide a detailed written account of the discussions so far. Finally I ask the commission to have a real discussion about diversity, not just racial or gender diversity or sexual orientation but diversity of thought and keep this in mind as we move forward in the Better Together process.

    I ask that my request be included in the minutes of tonight’s meeting. May God continue to bless you for your service to Decatur, the State of Georgia, and the United States of America.
    Thank you.

    Chris Billingsley

    • Hans

      I don’t connect this activity with the effort to weaken the authority of the police. Having a police representative seems appropriate. I agree that this could have been clearer from the get-go, but I’m not
      inclined to see ill will in a conversation about diversity. I wholeheartedly agree that diversity of thought is crucial, and appreciate you fighting for it. Your
      perspective is surely a part of the diversity we should seek, and if it is
      not then we do actually have a problem.

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