Hopewell Township discusses racial unrest in Police Department, Committee names June LGBTQ Month

Caption (left to right): Laurie Gompf, Kristin McLaughlin, Kevin Kuchinski, Elaine Borges, Mark Kataryniak, Julie Blake, Courtney Peters-Manning, Michael Ruger, Linda Galella, and Steve Goodell

At the Hopewell Township Committee meeting this week issues included an LGBTQ Proclamation, rally approval, and the community’s reaction to alleged racism in the Township Police Department.

The Committee convened at a rescheduled virtual meeting on Thursday June 11, after  its regular Monday Zoom meeting was interrupted by an unidentified male acting inappropriately and using vulgar language prompting that meeting’s immediate cancellation. For MercerMe’s coverage, see this link. In response to the incident, the Township took additional security measures, including requiring meeting participants to register their email addresses and wait for participation approval.

The meeting began with a Committee proclamation declaring June 2020 LGBTQ Pride Month in Hopewell Township for its second year. The reading of the proclamation was divided among Committee members who pledged that they, along with the Township, are committed to “promoting equality and fostering a welcoming and supportive environment for all.” To read the full proclamation, visit this link.

On Monday, click here for news report, Hopewell Township suspended six employees, including five police officers, in response to alleged racist Facebook activity when a Township police officer made a personal social media post referring to Black Lives Matter protesters as “terrorists.”

In response to the suspensions, Mayor McLaughlin pre-empted the rest of the regular meeting agenda. She first made a  statement deploring racism and then invited the public to speak to the Committee and Township Police Chief Maloney.

“This has been a very challenging time here and everywhere,” said McLaughlin. “We need to hear from you…. Tonight is intended to be part of an ongoing conversation…. I know you are here tonight because of an incident… it is an ongoing investigation… We deplore and condemn racism and understand the urgency of action. We will make certain the principles of equality are upheld by every single office, every employee, every single day.”

McLaughlin said that the Township is planning a “listening session” that will serve as “another opportunity for the community to ask questions and get answers.” “This is a critical time and we are open to determining how best to continue,” she continued.

During public comment, many members of the community were very vocal about the need to review the current Township police department and their observations that people of color are treated unfairly by the Hopewell Township police department.

“As a woman of color I live with a target on my back. The fact that I was identified as a terrorist is not only frightening, it is utterly dangerous. I have friends who worship in this community who are afraid to drive here because they don’t want to be pulledover by police. I have been to traffic court and have noted it is made up of people of color beyond lawyers and judges / clerks.” said Township resident Catherine Fulmer-Hogan, who also pressed the Township to issue and display its “Use of Force” policy.

Annette Earling, of Titusville, shared her experience finding herself the only White person at the Township traffic court, prompting her to make a complaint to the Township and speak with the Police Chief. 

Others shared their concerns about the fact that when five police officers are implicated, that is a large percentage of the force. Suggestions such as defunding the police department, the concept of 8 can’t wait, and making its policies more transparent were all offered.

In response to all the comments, the Committee members expressed the intention to continue the community dialogue while the investigation into the allegations are ongoing. “This is very real for a lot of our residents; and there is a lot of very good information on how we can improve in every way,” said Committee member Julie Blake.

The Committee also approved a Resolution to conduct a demonstration “Hopewell Township Rally for Police Accountability” organized by relatives of a Hopewell Township police officer who brought an action against the Township Police Department several years ago. Michael Sherman, who is Black, alleges being the subject of ongoing racist jokes and comments while in the employment of the Township Police Department.

Sherman’s sister spoke at the meeting saying: “The Township has failed to address the problem since 2016 and it is now 2020. This needs to be addressed… There has been no change… Please people of Hopewell Township continue to speak up — it not only affects you, it affects my family.”

In other news, the Committee approved salary increases, temporary outdoor dining permits, and hired two new part-time contact tracers bringing the Township to three full-time equivalent tracers, the number recommended by the Health Department. The Committee also congratulated the Green Team on a grant that will serve to fund recycling efforts.

The next Hopewell Township Committee will be on Monday, June 22 at 7pm. 

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