HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A contentious outdoor town hall at Harrisburg’s Reservoir Park brought dozens of residents out to address a host of concerns directly with city leaders.
The mayor and police chief were there, taking some heat at times over topics like reforming use of force policies and the re-allocation of police funding.
The discussion was centered around finding a way out of what some call a box of oppression, one that still causes a gap between communities of color, and the police.
“What makes me even more sick and tired is seeing officials not care about this community until it’s election season,” said organizer, Brent Lipscomb.
Lipscomb said to an applauding crowd that real leadership is always in season.
“Being a public servant and representing this community is a reward and honor,” he said.
Community leaders sat on stage, taking questions from a virtual and live audience.
“Why do you keep coming up here saying that you’re gonna change stuff to keep us at bay, then we come here asking the same questions?” one Harrisburg resident asked.
He was frustrated that, in his eyes, police-community relations never seem to improve.
“So either y’all lying or we lying and let me tell you something — we ain’t lying,” he said.
The passion turned intense, many saying they believe that due process for officers is often different than that of everyday citizens.
“My man, you’re not gonna keep cussing at me,” said Harrisburg police chief Thomas Carter. “I need the community to tell me how they want my officers to police their neighborhoods.”
Carter said recruiting officers of color is a constant challenge. Mayor Eric Papenfuse added that a lack of officers hired, means leftover funds which he is open to re-allocating to expand a co-responder program.
“[It] does embed social workers in ride-alongs with Harrisburg and other police officers,” Papenfuse said.
If widespread reform is the goal, city leaders say they can’t do it alone.
“If we want change to state law, then we have to talk to our state legislators,” said councilman Westburn Majors. “I am tired…I am a black man in America.”
Kamika Campbell, who helped to emcee the event, said only being loud at events like this doesn’t solve anything.
“You go home, you spread the word to your families in your communities, you talk about what they’re saying, you get people to the polls, you get people in front of their offices,” Campbell said.