Teamwork makes progress for civil rights in local communities

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SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — National headlines have the spotlight fixed, again, on civil rights movements and the fight against injustice.

Northeast and Central PA have seen thousands of people taking to the streets in peaceful protests throughout last year. It’s the work being done after that has local activist groups and officials on the right path.

“We are having that dialogue between each other and addressing issues that we might not know about,” Scranton Police Department Chief Leonard Namiotka said.

Groups like the new Lackawanna County branch of the NAACP, the Black Scranton Project, and Creating Change FTP have been hard at work.

Representation from these local groups is now regularly meeting with the mayor, police chief, and officials in Scranton. Those meetings are critical even as different programs help educate about civil rights, gender equality, and more in an online setting, as well as continuing to hit the streets for peaceful protests.

Other initiatives have been to feed those in need and support minority-owned businesses with the goal being a whole community effort.

“They’re putting forward the steps that they need to take, so that they have a seat at the table in the communities that they will serve,” Kenneth Huston, Pennsylvania State Conference NAACP President said.

Earlier this week, Huston visited Scranton to show support for keeping a local elementary school open. While he was here, he told us about all the work he’s been seeing and hearing about happen in our corner of the state and what that means for unity moving forward.

“When it comes to racial issues, it’s having those relationships with police departments and school districts that are incredibly important–with their elected officials both county and locally are extremely important. And I think they’re hitting the ground running with that,” Huston said.

While the nation is keeping an eye on the death of Daunte Wright, the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer in the death of George Floyd, and the Christian Hall case here in NEPA, talking with these organizations and those officials, both are fixed on keeping everyone at the table and working to prevent any incidents down the road.

“What we’re looking at right now is the bias across the country. You know the bias between the police department and the public, you know it can be a good versus bad bias, it’s all the way you handle it,” Namiotka said.

Improving communication is key to the mission of the NAACP and other groups.

“It’s the realization, with particularly white people, not just black and brown people to understand that hey, this is not the America I want to live in. This is not the community I want to live in,” Huston said.

It’s a notion that Scranton officials say they hear and will continue to act on.

“We are serving the best we can and if you don’t know about these issues? We can’t address them.
We need them to come forward, tell us about them. So we could act properly and give them the best service that police department can,” Namiotka said.

The Scranton Police Department says they are working on several programs to address police bias including a scenario simulator.

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