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Longview NAACP targets neighborhood watch training as part of national initiative

By Richard Yeakley
Aug. 1, 2013 at 11 p.m.

Spurred by the February 2012 shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, the NAACP announced a sweeping initiative this week to to help prevent similar incidents.

Nationally, the civil rights organization announced it will work to end stand your ground laws and to require across-the-board training on the dangers of racial profiling.

The Longview chapter president said Thursday that under the initiative known as "Trayvon's Law," the group will work in East Texas to end racial profiling, to train the city's crime watch groups and to "dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline."

"We are trying to find out what is at the root of this problem, at the root and source, and get that out, get that exposed and changed," said Branden Johnson, president of the Longview chapter. "We are a policy and advocacy based organization. We are looking at finding the policy and the issue-based problems."

Johnson said the Longview chapter will hold several town hall meetings on yet-to-be determined dates to begin gathering community input on how to help move Trayvon's Law forward in the community.

In addition, the proposals will be discussed at a rally planned at the end of the month and at a memorial service planned Sept. 15 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. Both events are sponsored by the Longview NAACP.

"We want to see what the community would like to see done here as far as the first steps. It requires everyone on board regardless of party affiliations, socio-economic standing and certainly race as we determine what we want from Longview, the issues that we need to address in Longview and Gregg County," Johnson said.

The group will then begin pursuing goals at the heart of Trayvon's Law, including ending racial profiling - if it is a problem in the city - and better training of community watch groups while bringing changes to school systems that are intended to help curb the "school-to-prison pipeline."

One of the primary focuses will be on city crime watch organizations.

George Zimmerman, head of a neighborhood crime watch group in Florida, was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges this past month. Zimmerman said he shot the 17-year-old Martin in self defense.

"Furthermore, laws must reiterate that best practices specifically include language highlighting that these groups should - among other concerns - not be armed and that their role is to maintain a visible presence, 'watch' the community, coordinate with local law enforcement when they see suspicious activity, and not to directly engage suspects," reads a summary of Trayvon's Law, released Tuesday by the NAACP.

Longview police said Thursday that is already the practice here.

Each meeting of community crime watch groups includes encouragement not to interact with a person acting suspiciously.

"We encourage them basically to be the eyes and ears, and look after their own safety," said James Bray, Police Area Representative for Beat 30. Bray added if a member of a crime watch group can get closer and gather information, such as a description or license plate safely, he or she is encouraged to do so.

The NAACP effort also calls for members of community watch group to coordinate with local police departments, sheriff's offices and other official law enforcement agencies to receive training on racial profiling before serving.

Bray, who oversees more than a dozen Longview crime watch groups, and police spokeswoman Kristie Brian each said racial profiling training is not part of the information given to members of a crime watch, nor had they seen a problem with members discriminating.

"I think it is a non-issue. That has never been brought up in any of our groups. I just don't see it as a problem at all, not for groups in Longview," Brian said.

Trayvon's Law also calls for school reforms to help end a perceived flow of juveniles from the classroom to a prison cell.

The NAACP will push to an array of school policies including zero tolerance, suspensions for minor infractions, the use of police officers to discipline students rather than educators and school arrests for misdemeanors.

"America must focus on keeping children in school and out of prisons and jails. To do so, several policy changes must immediately be enacted. It is time to redirect our misplaced priorities and create policies and help kids stay in school," the national summary said.

Johnson said that may mean taking policy requests to area school boards.

While not addressing the specific points of the NAACP plan, a Longview ISD spokesman concurred keeping students out of trouble was a goal of the district.

"We have long had aspirations of graduating 100 percent of our students into a productive adulthood," Adam Holland said, adding, "... we will continue to put a priority on getting our students to college or into the workforce."



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