Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz addresses vigil after shootings of Dallas cops; video by Dave Sullivan
By Kevin Coughlin
As Morristown joined communities around the nation struggling to comprehend recent shootings by police, and of police, the town’s top cop asked for understanding of the pressures facing law enforcement and challenged local clergy to “stand with me” on late-night police calls to poor neighborhoods.
“Understand, we never get a dispatch to a good situation,” Chief Pete Demnitz told an interfaith vigil at the Morristown United Methodist Church, days after five Dallas police officers were slain at a Black Lives Matter rally.
Demnitz questioned police tactics that preceded the shootings of African Americans Philando Castile (Falcon Heights, MN) and Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge, LA) this month, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, in 2014
But he spoke in defense of officers who receive “the hate stare” despite doing their best while being asked to cure “all the social ills that no one else can figure out.
“Officers all over this country are paying for the actions of a few,” he said. He wore a black band of mourning on his badge.
Days after he spoke, three Baton Rouge officers were gunned down by a black man from Missouri, a former Marine allegedly angered by the Alton Sterling killing.
The Morristown Area Clergy Council organized the local vigil.
Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. of Bethel A.M.E. Church stressed the importance of “listening.” Pastor David Silva of Centro Biblico asked the audience to remember that Hispanic lives matter also.
Silva offered a prayer in Spanish; Rabbi Ellie Miller of Temple B’nai Or sang a prayer for peace in Hebrew. Former NFL player Bart Oates, now a bishop with the Church of Latter-Day Saints in Morris Township, offered a prayer for justice. The Calvary Baptist Praise and Worship Team also sang.
The police chief brought them all to their feet with his unscripted 13-minute speech.
Citing a Boston program, Demnitz challenged clergy and social workers to accompany his officers answering complaints about “young African American men with a high unemployment rate, with no place to go.”
Society is “asking me and my cops, my cops with guns, to deal with people who are doing no more than violating noise ordinance laws and some drinking laws.
“Stand with me at 10, 11 at night, at midnight, at 3 in the morning. Stand with me and my cops. I want social workers. I want programs. I want people to stand with me and my cops and walk up to these African American kids,” Demnitz said.
“Think about it. How is the relationship between the police and the community going to get better if all we are doing is approaching 14-, 15-, 16-year-old kids, and telling them, ‘You can’t stand here,’ they’ve got to go someplace else– but there’s no place else to go?”
Policing has changed dramatically since he became a cop in 1983, Demnitz said, noting that his police utility belt now includes Narcan, a drug to revive heroin victims, and a tourniquet, a proven life-saver at the Boston Marathon bombing.
“Understand that we have to train for every eventuality– the next Sept. 11, the next San Bernardino or Sandy Hook. We have to chase criminals, and dogs, and the person who let their dog poop on the other person’s property. We get all those calls.”
Demnitz shared grim vignettes from his career–murders, suicides, autopsies, domestic disputes. He delivered some of his remarks in Spanish.
The chief acknowledged fears expressed by many in the black community for their sons’ safety in the wake of police shootings shown on the Internet.
“Trust me, my family is afraid for me, too,” said Demnitz.
Marie Pfeifer contributed to this report. Special thanks to Dave Sullivan for his video and photos.