WEST BARNSTABLE – The United Nations has declared December 10 as Human Rights Day and in recognition of that, Cape Cod Community College held a forum yesterday on the topic of human rights as it relates to the controversial grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York.
Students and faculty filled the Upper Grossman Commons conference room for the session, making it a standing room only event.
The forum was the idea of Cape Cod Community College Criminal Justice Professor Nancy Dempsey whose students had been asking to discuss the two recent cases in which grand juries failed to indict white police officers who killed black men.
Cape Cod Community College President John Cox said he was in college in the 1960s when protests about race and civil rights were common. He said talking about the issues is critical to move forward.
Cox called the forum “a thoughtful discussion of human rights in today’s world with a focus on the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City.”
Panelists at the session included John Reed, Past President of the NAACP and Chair of the Barnstable County Human Rights Commission; Michael O’Keefe, Cape and Islands District Attorney; Elenita Muñiz, Barnstable County Human Rights Coordinator; Dr. Keith Clarke, President of Sturgis School Board and member of Concerned Black Men of Cape Cod; and Chief Rodney Collins, Chief of the Mashpee Police Department.
Cox said, “Today the hope is with the panelists here under the moderating of Professor Nancy Dempsey that we can engage in more thought leadership on this as we figure out where we’re going both as a community and as a nation and the take away will be that we’ll grow a little in understanding here.”
Human Rights Day commemorates the day on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaiming its principles as the “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”
Police Chief Rodney Collins spoke about community policing and gave his thoughts on the Ferguson and New York cases.
He stressed that police have obligations to the community.
“I don’t think you the general public expect police to be perfect but you do expect us to be honest. You have a right to expect that your law enforcement officials are honest. And that’s what’s going to build the trust,” Collins said.
Barnstable County Human Rights Commission Coordinator Elenita Muniz said that as, as she put it, “a blue-eyed Puerto Rican,” she looks at race issues with a unique perspective.
“The bottom line for me is that just as men are responsible for ending sexism and straight people are responsible for ending homophobia, only white people can end racism. And we need to work on that,” Muniz said.