Black leaders call for stronger action with Riverdale police

By Billy Corriher

Local black leaders held a press conference on Wednesday to call for more changes to the Riverdale Police Department to address allegations of racism and discrimination, some calling for the ouster of Chief Mike Edwards.

Because of the allegations, City Manager Billy Beckett requested an inquiry from the Department of Justice on the state of race relations among city employees. The report found that there were perceived discrimination problems but city employees were generally satisfied with their working environments.

But local black leaders said the report is not enough, and they called for an investigation from the civil rights division of the Department of Justice.

Roberta Abdul-Salaam, chairwoman of the local NAACP's Political Action Committee, said the disputed claims from Capt. Phillip Neely, a black officer, that his life was threatened were true, and that such allegations need to be investigated more thoroughly.

"These accusations are not myths, they do exist," she said. "Something has to be done."

Neely's father also said the claims that his son received threats on his life after speaking publicly of discrimination in the police department were true. But Neely himself would not comment.

Carl Freeman, who said he was terminated by the department four times and reinstated three times, previously filed a complaint against the department that alleged discrimination.

Freeman said officers who come forward with such allegations are threatened and intimidated, and changes in leadership could be the solution.

"If Chief Edwards is the problem, he needs to go," he said.

But Officer Debra Johnson said the department does not have a major problem with race relations and most officers get along.

Johnson said the department is addressing many of the problems, including improving its image in the community.

Johnson said she didn't think Edwards should be fired and she said most officers don't have a problem with his leadership.

But Dexter Matthews, president of the Clayton County chapter of the NAACP, said the current leadership in Riverdale has not addressed the problem of discrimination.

"They've got to do more," he said. "Somebody may need to get terminated."

Though the community leaders said the problem has been around for years, they faulted the current governing body for not doing more to address the problem.

After receiving the report, the city council approved funding for more sensitivity training for police officers, and the council had planned on establishing a public safety committee among the council members to study further solutions to the problems.

But with council members still feuding and not communicating with Mayor Phaedra Graham, the mayor indicated Tuesday that she didn't intend to establish a committee.

Graham said she could not find any section of the city charter that addressed forming a council committee to study a city department.

After the press conference, citizens went to a public town hall and pleaded with Graham and the council to put aside their differences to address the city's problems.

Kelley Jackson, who ran for mayor of Riverdale last year, pleaded with the body to work together so they can properly address Neely's allegations and any problems in the police department.

"You can't take care of that if you can't talk," she said.