The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office will host a community forum on use of force and systemic racism in policing at the Bremen fire station from 6-8 p.m., Thursday, July 9.
A flyer from the sheriff’s office describes the forum as an opportunity to join friends and neighbors for a candid discussion with Sheriff Todd Brackett and other representatives of the sheriff’s office about “current events as they relate to police use of force and racism.”
“In the wake of recent national events, several residents of Bremen have reached out to me, asking important questions about the policy and practice of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office” in those areas, Brackett said in the flyer.
“If you would like to talk about these issues and other related topics, I invite you to come and join in on the discussion, share your point of view and listen to that of others,” he said.
“I think it is a good opportunity for people to raise concerns and ask questions,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of opportunity to do things like this and I think it is a good opportunity for people to hear what we are doing and learn how we interact with the public.”
The forum has a cap of 50 in-person attendees due to COVID-19. Attendees are asked to RSVP to the sheriff’s office at 882-6576 or email@example.com. The agency will livestream the event on its Facebook page if the internet connection at the fire station allows.
“I’m hoping it will be an open dialogue so we can better understand how people are feeling and what we can do to support them and listen to what they have to say,” Brackett said.
Brackett views the forum as geared toward Bremen residents, but if there is interest from other communities in the county, he is not opposed to having subsequent forums in other towns.
“If there is demand, I would absolutely consider doing it again,” he said.
The announcement of the forum comes after Matthew Hanly, of Bremen, wrote the Bremen Board of Selectmen about the town’s policing policies in the context of worldwide protests calling for policing reform.
Hanly, who met with Brackett on Wednesday, June 24, said he appreciates the sheriff’s willingness to sit down and talk with the community.
“He was incredibly receptive, wants to have a discussion and wants to receive community input,” Hanly said.
Brackett described his meeting with Hanly and another Bremen resident, Rev. Charlene Curtiss Corbett, as positive.
“I think they had questions about our procedure and policy, and we had a healthy discussion, a good dialogue. We want to maintain transparency,” Brackett said.
“When I wrote the select board, my goal was to ensure Bremen is a welcoming community for everyone,” Hanly said.
Hanly said ensuring the town is a welcoming place will help bring new residents to town, the same way improved internet connectivity can attract professionals.
“Bringing diverse people together is an opportunity for the town and I see this as an opportunity to do that. If a community is unwelcoming to a segment of the population, people won’t want to go there,” Hanly said.
Corbett, pastor of The Second Congregational Church in Newcastle, attended the meeting at Hanly’s invitation.
“I’m very optimistic about the conversation we had. I think it is the right time to have a community conversation around police use of force and racial training for officers,” Corbett said.
Corbett hopes similar forums will follow.
“I’m hoping it is the start of local police and the community beginning to have really important and sometimes difficult discussions about policy matters to reestablish trust between community members and law enforcement,” Corbett said.
Corbett is a clergy leader for People United Against Racism and takes part in the organization’s weekly vigils in Newcastle’s Veterans Memorial Park from 5-6 p.m. each Monday. She has also taken part in vigils for Black Lives Matter from 4-6 p.m. Thursdays in the same location.
Christa Thorpe, of Bremen, said she sees the forum as an opportunity for residents to hear one another out.
“I’m hoping for an honest conversation, for as many people who care about this, all sides of the issue, to show up as possible,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe, who works at the Island Institute, a Rockland-based nonprofit, said the institute has joined many other organizations in releasing statements in support of Black Lives Matter.
“Statements are great, but we need to have conversations too. This is a way to get started on the conversation, a conversation to take us, as a community, to a better place,” Thorpe said.