Parkland police talk face-to-face with students
On Wednesday, Oct. 11, Parkland’s Black Student SUCCESS Project hosted an event, titled “You and the Police,” in which attending students were able to ask questions to Chief of Police William Colbrook and Sergeant Matt Kopmann of Parkland’s Public Safety.
At 1 p.m. about two dozen students were seated, ready for the event to start. A large majority of the students present were black. Additional attendees filtered in in the following minutes. A total of 65 people attended the discussion says Donna Tanner-Harold, director of the Black Student SUCCESS Project.
Attendees were given the chance to ask the police officers “any questions at all,” as Kopmann made clear after both officers gave introductions which lasted about ten minutes total.
The officers made a point to let attendees know not to hold back.
“Nothing you ask us is going to offend us,” said Colbrook. “We try to do these face-to-face meetings with the students every year. Honestly, I wish we could do it every month.”
Kopmann said speaking with students and community members is exciting.
“This is fun. This is fun for me,” Kopmann said.
The introductions included general descriptions by the officers of what their roles are in the college and a description of the active police on the force and their presence and daily activities. It was tied in with reminders regarding public safety protocol on campus.
Questions asked of the officers by attendees varied in nature. Some addressed proper police protocol and others addressed alleged injustices regarding excessive force used by police officers while on the job.
Colbrook summarized the situation with a statement.
“In most cases—and the statistics bear it out—in most cases that’s not the case. Those are extremely, extremely, extremely isolated incidents,” Colbrook said.
Colbrook also noted how that in roughly three million interactions police have daily with civilians, the number of incidents that involve a misuse of power are incredibly low. Overall, he emphasized the importance of attempting to put oneself in the shoes of a police officer, whom never know whether the citizen they are interacting with is reaching for a cigarette or a concealed weapon.
Albert Like, a black member of Parkland’s custodial staff, took his opportunity to speak against community members condemning Kopmann as a racist.
“The [last] few weeks, [Kopmann] was accused of racism,” Like said. “But here’s some things about Sergeant Matthew that you all don’t know: Sergeant Matthew loves old hip-hop rap—you [didn’t] know that. Sergeant Matthew had every Air Jordan [shoe] ever made—every one.”
Like continued by saying Kopmann had aided him in applying for and receiving his Firearm Owner Identification card and concealed carry license.
“Now, this is the good part: Sergeant Matthew helped me get my FOID card…Then [he] said…‘I’m [going to] help you get your concealed carry.’ So, they taught me how to shoot. That’s racism?” Like said.
Like said in his experiences with Kopmann he had never been a victim of racism from the officer, and he criticized what he views as a double standard of racism.
“Now, I’ve been a victim of racism a lot…but I’ve never been a victim by him. But, you all saw him doing his job out here and called him a racist. We don’t like being accused but we [are] quick to accuse them.”
Like’s speech lasted for several minutes and was followed by a round of applause from most of the room.
Kopmann was recently involved in the arrest of black Parkland student Oluwatobi Mordi. Mordi resisted as Kopmann and another white Parkland officer attempted to arrest him, leading officers on a chase through the U-wing lounge area. Mordi was finally apprehended outside the U-wing’s south-facing entrance.
Kopmann received injuries to his face during the confrontation, and a bystander was pushed to the ground as Mordi tried to evade arrest.
The News-Gazette reports Mordi was charged with four felonies—including aggravated battery against a peace officer—and a misdemeanor assault.
A video of the incident recorded by a bystander has gotten over a million views online.
Some among Parkland’s student, staff and faculty, including the Social Justice Club, disagree that Mordi’s arrest by Parkland police was justified and believe Public Safety’s officers used excessive force in the arrest. The officers involved, as well as Public Safety and Parkland as a whole, have received accusations of racism by some in the community.
The Champaign-Urbana chapter of Black Lives Matter agrees with the Social Justice Club’s stance on the issue and has worked to raise funds for Mordi’s legal fees.
The Black Student SUCCESS Project event was planned long before the incident between Mordi and the police. The Black Student SUCCESS Project and Public Safety like to hold the discussion at least once a year.
All students, staff and faculty were welcome to attend the event. Tanner-Harold, the Black Student SUCCESS Project’s director, says all of the program’s events are open to all Parkland students.