Park City issue group takes on race
Amid tensions between law enforcement officials and minority groups in various parts of the country, Project for Deeper Understanding, a Park City issue group, plans to host a panel discussion to address those relationships and examine why clashes occur.
“This has been going on and on and in spite of the fact that we are in sort of this bubble up here in Park City, there are still points of tension,” said Rev. Charles Robinson, of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. “We do have a small minority community and we thought it would be good to have a safe place for people to talk about this.”
The forum will address a range of issues surrounding racism, gun violence and the overall state of the judicial system. It is scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. The two-hour event will also include a question-and-answer segment with the audience.
The selected panelists are: Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez; Jane Patten, executive director of Peace House; Laura Pepe Grimaldo, a Peace House staffer; Greg Stephens, a Summit County resident; Park City attorney Joe Tesch; former federal Judge Samuel Alba; and Sharon Yamen, assistant professor of legal studies at Utah Valley University. Summit County Attorney Robert Hilder will moderate.
For more than a decade, the Project for Deeper Understanding has held forums addressing weighty issues. This year topics have included public lands and income inequality. Robinson said the decision to address the relationship between law enforcement and minorities came on the heels of shootings involving police officers in Dallas, Baltimore and Milwaukee.
“We all kind of look alike up here and don’t have the issues that St. Louis and Baltimore have, but this topic was so important nationally that it has to be on their minds,” Robinson said. “Will people show up for this? Will they participate? To be honest, I have no idea if it will. This is a more difficult topic. That is one of the things the team was worried about when thinking about taking the subject on.
“We are not interested in making this a public trial on the police department,” he said. “We want to talk about some tension points and some areas we may have in common with the rest of the country. We haven’t had a space to talk about this and flesh it out before.”
Hilder, who is also a former state court judge, said there was an “undeniable and overwhelming” disproportion between the general population and minorities that stood before him during his 16 years on the bench.
“It made me question my own reaction,” Hilder said. “But we really don’t have too many issues that are directly race-related here. Maybe it just means we haven’t been hit with the difficult circumstances yet.”
Martinez said anytime an open discussion can take place between those involved with the justice system and the community “it is a good thing.” He echoed Hilder and Robinson’s statements that the same tensions don’t necessarily exist in Summit County.
“I don’t think we have a huge issue here, but I may be completely mistaken. This dialogue may completely say, ‘Yes, Justin. There is a distrust,’” the sheriff said. “If that is the case, that’s fine, but we need to find a way to fix that.
“We do have our fair share of crime and of minorities that live here,” he said. “This is an opportunity to educate and share information and maybe get some misinformation corrected.”
Since taking office in early 2015, Martinez said, he has encouraged his employees to concentrate on customer service and building relationships within the community. After the shooting deaths of five Dallas police officers, Martinez said his office received an outpouring of support. People sent baked goods and notes, he said.
“Here we feel like we are we have a different environment and sometimes it is hard to reconcile those emotions with what is going on on a national level,” Martinez said. “It does affect us and it affects all of us differently, but is hard to juxtapose that against what is happening in places like Dallas. We look through our glass bubble and see our brothers dying. Collectively, as an organization, we are taking a beating. But in our community we have support.”
The Project for Deeper Understanding’s panel discussion is scheduled on Thursday, Sept. 15, between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 4595 N. Silver Springs Drive.
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.