This newspaper has been a catalyst for change for the past 14 years. We pushed for the maritime park, new city charter and the election of several new commissioners, city council members, Mayor Ashton Hayward and Sheriff David Morgan.
Change has happened. However, all the changes haven’t helped us deal with the real issues facing this community.
A terrible incident happens. There is a momentary uproar. Then everything goes back to the way it was. We have become caught in a loop that forever holds this community back.
The unfortunate shooting of Roy Middleton, who was unarmed and in his own yard at the time, gives us an opportunity to talk about race and law enforcement. A long history of grievances exists between the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and Pensacola Police Department—grievances didn’t begin when Sheriff David Morgan and Chief Chip Simmons took control of their agencies.
A few years ago, we had people dying in the county jail and a Pensacola Police officer ran over and killed a teenager. We never really talked about the roles race and poverty played in those terrible incidents.
The Middleton shooting and the later shooting of two dogs in a couple’s home have brought national attention to our area. The daily newspaper has been critical of Sheriff David Morgan for his handling of the situations. Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating them and, to a certain extent, Morgan is limited in what he can say about the shootings.
However, his bringing up whether the public uproar would have ever occurred if Middleton was white, not black, didn’t help anything and only left him and his agency open to more criticism.
Lines have been drawn in the media and in the community. What I fear is that we won’t really talk about race, poverty and the huge disparities in this community and how those issues impact our law enforcement.
The community’s confidence in law enforcement has been shaken. An open dialogue about how we can restore trust and build upon recent successes needs to be held. Sheriff David Morgan is a good man and a much better sheriff than his predecessors.
When FDLE completes its reports, a series of town hall meetings should be held to discuss the results and where we go from here. Emotions may run high. However, we really can’t afford to avoid them any longer.
This endless loop has to stop.