JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — In a closed meeting Friday evening, board members of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement group, New Generation Freedom Fighters, along with Johnson City officials, discussed policies and training methods within the Johnson City Police Department.
The group’s leadership members sat down with officials, including Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock, Johnson City Police Department Chief Karl Turner, and Johnson City Manager Pete Peterson at the Langston Centre in downtown.
Sparking reform within Johnson City
New Generation Freedom Fighters Board Chair Katelyn Yarbrough said the group shed light on the policing reform, ‘8 Can’t Wait,’ to city and law enforcement officials.
“One of the things Chief Turner said needed clarification in their policies would be the ban on choke holds and strangleholds,” Yarbrough said. “He let us know that it’s not taught…he said, ‘It is not in our policies here.’ But he did say there is some clarification that can be made in those policies to make sure that does not happen.”
Johnson City Mayor Brock told News Channel 11 that city officials and the New Generation Freedom Fighters board spent time with introductions and sharing stories to spark a relationship of trust that she sees as just the beginning.
“I think there was just great commitment that we’re going to work through this, and we’re going to exam everything that we do,” Brock said. “Not just in the police department, but in the city and in our community.”
Brock also revealed that city officials are considering forming a committee to work within the Johnson City community.
“We’re looking at adding a committee to the city — we don’t have a name for it yet —that is minority representation, that is a voice back to commissioners and a voice to the city administration,” Brock said.
For those protesters who marched last week who don’t reside within Johnson City limits, Mayor Brock saw that as people who saw an organized movement and wanted their voices heard, too.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people from going down there [to marches and forums],” Brock said. “People from Jonesborough and Kingsport and Elizabethton and from around the Tri-Cities, as opposed to being out-of-state. So, we’re glad that that has happened.
“You know, I think they see these folks with an organized purpose, and they just want to be a part of it and show their support.”
Brock went on to say that she doesn’t see the recent local marches and protests in a negative light.
“I’ve had people say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry of what’s going on,'” Brock said. “And I said, ‘You know, this is really a privilege. This is happening all over the nation, and so it’s an opportunity to really address it in a way that hopefully is showing leadership.
We can make a difference. We can make our community better. So, the opportunity is there, and I wouldn’t run from it for a minute. I want to ask every citizen to step up. This is kind of a privileged time, so I think we’ve hit a tipping point, and it’s not going to go away. You see it nationwide — everywhere. We can become a role model city in how we address this, so I’m excited about that.Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock
Marching forward: What’s to come
Group members along with several leaders from the New Generation Freedom Fighters will meet at Founders Park Saturday, June 13 at 10 a.m. to travel to Marion, Virginia, where a community member there has organized a ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement caravan.
Yarbrough told News Channel 11 that the Marion local, Travon Brown, has joined efforts on the marches, forums, and peaceful protests in Johnson City over the past several weeks, and the group wanted to extend a helping hand to help bring reform to his home as well.
I come up here every day and I protest with these guys and no matter if I don’t know them or not…They always make me feel like I’m family. They always show me support and love.Travon Brown in regard to the New Generation Freedom Fighters in Johnson City
“We’ve got some friends in Marion, Virginia — Travon,” Yarbrough said. “He has organized something similar to what we’ve done here…We’re heading to Marion to show them some support and solidarity.”
Another event includes the Juneteenth Celebration in Knoxville, where one of the leaders within the New Generation Freedom Fighters, Andre Johnson, will speak.
According to Johnson, the celebration will take place in Caswell Park at 6 p.m. on Juneteenth, Friday, June 19.
As for the New Generation Freedom Fighters, the group will begin forming subcommittees in the days to come, such as groups that will organize events, fundraisers, and education forums.
“Education and outreach is going to be our next really big push because a lot of the people that are marching side-by-side with us — they’re not black or people of color,” Yarbrough said. “So, we want to make sure that they’re educated on why we’re so fired up about this cause.
“We’re going to utilize the Langston Centre here to be able to hold specific forums for people to not only get involved but to be educated on the things that have been lacking in our school systems as far as black history is concerned.”
City officials and the New Generation Freedom Fighters will meet again on June 23.