|Jamie Strouse tells her story, as her husband William listens.|
Esther Lee is attired,as usual, in her church lady hat.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
DiLuzio Shocked By Complaints About Bethlehem Police
Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio was taken aback by allegations of disrespect and possible racism in his own police department during a crowded NAACP meeting on community relations at Bethlehem Town Hall last night, attended by over 60 people. I will have a more detailed account in The Bethlehem Press. This forum was chaired by the indomitable Esther Lee, wearing her church lady hat. Mayor Bob Donchez, Police Chief Mark Diluzio, several members of Council, State Representative Steve Samuelson and several pastors attended. But it was the audience, not the panelists, who had the most to say.
Jamie and William Strouse, a biracial couple from West Bethlehem, actually had several stories.
William, who is white, was pulled over by Bethlehem police for driving a car with an expired inspection sticker. He was issued a warning. But when his black father-in-law committed the same violation in his car, the police reaction was quite different.
"What are you doing in this part of town?" is the first question the officer had for the black father-in-law, who lives on Union Street in Allentown and was picking up his granddaughter to watch her for the day. The officer, who spotted the expired inspection, did a U-Turn as Jamie Strouse's father pulled over at his daughter's home on West Broad. Nervous, he thought he may have brushed up against her car. When she came out to explain the situation to the officer, he told her to “step away from the vehicle." A K-9 van from Allentown was soon at the scene of the expired inspection sticker. The granddaughter was crying while neighbors stood outside, gawking
"I get a warning, and he gets a K-9 call," noted Strouse.
Jamie, who is black, also discussed a September incident in which she was driving her son Calypso school (she also works at the school district). She noticed police cars everywhere at the school. When she asked an officer what was going on, he said it was because of “people like you." He instructed her to move, and an officer started following her. The bus driver in front of her had to vouch for her. When she left, a third police car followed her out. "The worst part of this is it happened in front of my son," said Strouse, noting that she had always taught her son that police officers exist "to serve and protect."
"When we think about African American men wanting to become police officers, we first have to be able to view them as our allies, and that's a big problem," she told the gathering. "There's this divide. It's us versus them. It's not helpful to anyone on either side."
"This is the first time I'm hearing about this," said Police Chief Mark DiLuzio, who had just finished explaining how difficult it is to recruit minority officers. "If I had heard about it ahead of time, believe me, heads would have rolled," he said. But he was also skeptical. "I've been doing this job 36 years. I know a lot of good cops in Bethlehem. You’re not talking about anybody I know."
Unfortunately, no rank-and-file police officers were on hand to respond.
"I don't care what color the officer is," noted William. "That doesn't matter to me. It's the treatment and respect of the officer to the community." He added that now, when his five-year old son sees an officer, he asks, "Is he going to be rude like the other one was to Mom?"
Did the Strouses simply misinterpreted things? Not according to Sonia Zahm, a guidance counselor with the Bethlehem Area School District for the past 15 years. She said she hears the same tales from families at Donegan Elementary, on the City's South side. "Those kids that I heard those stories from are now Liberty High School teenagers, and they're angry and their families are angry," she said.
"Maybe they [police officers] need to be trained about how to be human," she suggested, and related what had just happened to her 16 year old white son, who was driving a car his family just purchased for him. Once again, it was an expired inspection sticker. "Mom, why was it necessary for the cop to be mean and rude to me?" he asked his mother when he got home.
He was given a $103 fine and told that costs will be more. "I hear these stories all the time," said Zahm. "It makes me sad for our community."
Esther Lee suggested her son is lucky "Your son can say 'No sir; Yes, sir" Our son can say that and if they move their hands, they're dead."
DiLuzio noted that a cosmetologist gets 1500 hours of training compared to only 600 for a police officer.
Mary Smith claims there are "different laws for different races." Her grandson (half Spanish, half black) went with five white friends to McDonalds. She said Bethlehem police pulled the car over and let the five white boys go. But she had to pick up her grandson. "Why can't you just treat them the same?" she asked
As the evening ended, Esther Lee stated that "every child has a right to education and should not end up in prison or murdered just because he didn't know which way to put his hands."