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Striving for equality for all

In a flyer announcing a Leadership forum, it is described as an open forum, to briefly introduce the history and facts and oppression of people of color and the poor in the U.S. and discuss how protest and riots in other states are affecting ones understanding of ones culture and society.  “We will explore what changes are occurring in our community,” Orange Councilmember Terrie Salter said. “We will highlight critical legal issues of criminal justice, civil rights, human rights and economic concerns to name only a few.  It is not just happening in big cities but in small towns as well. This is so important. When something is occulting, no one wants to speak out unless it happens to them. We need to be proactive in change for the betterment of everyone.”

Approximately 35 people attended the event with several speaking on issues they had personally experienced with local law enforcement.

One situation concerned a man being arrested at his place of employment due to a case of mistaken identity. He was not the person police were looking for despite the names being the same. A woman spoke about the severity of the sentence her son received compared to a white man receiving probation for the same charge. Another man spoke on his son being kidnapped by his estranged wife and being told the child was safe with her despite a sex offender living in the residence. The same child is now serving time as a sex offender. Another woman spoke of a situation of domestic violence where she was treated like the criminal despite the man biting her cheek to the point of drawing blood.

“The point of the meeting it to get information from the community about what is happening in our community,” NAACP President John Jefferson said. “Each situation will be investigated and we will get back with you on it.”

Jefferson added more blacks need to report for jury duty when they receive the summons as many times they find a reason to not serve.

One woman said she reported that morning for duty and was one of six blacks reporting for jury duty.

Attorney Giles Cole asked how many had served on a Grand Jury. Two raised their hands.

“We need to show up when called for duty,” Cole said. “They can’t make us show up. We can make sure we qualify to serve.”

He added he became a lawyer for prevention.

“We need more extracurricular activities for the youth,” Cole said.

Jefferson said they need to work diligently to get justice and to ensure Terrance Watson receives a fair trial.

“We will do it is a way not violent,” Jefferson said. “We do need to take the next step up. If a person steals a penny candy and gets 20 years, then the next person should get the same 20 years.”

Salter added the leaders in the past died for this.

“I have heard people say ‘We have come so far in 400 years.’  No we have not,” Salter said. “Speak up is the only way.”

This is the first of more meetings to come. A case against Terrance Watson and concerns for if he could get a fair trial in Orange County inspired the meetings.

Terrance Watson is accused of aggravated assault after a Nederland man said he saw Watson dragging something behind his car on July 4, 2019 in Orange. Watson is accused of punching the man who, according to Watson’s attorney, was attempting to remove the flag from Watson’s truck and Watson was protecting his property.

“He is facing 25 to life for his first Amendment right,” Sadiyah A. Evangelista, attorney, said. “He thought the man was pulling a gun on him as he was pulling that racist flag.”

She added they were on the forefront of criminal justice reform in Orange County.

“We are organizing for our freedom,” Evangelista said.