BATESVILLE — After the death of George Floyd May 25 in Minneapolis, protests against police violence against black people have taken place across the country and around the world. After a June 4 vigil to support racial justice was canceled in Batesville, several citizens asked Batesville City Council members and other city officials June 8 why it didn’t happen.

Jocelyn Xenophontos said, “It’s very important for a town that lacks diversity to understand that and have a discussion. It’s the only way to address the problem .... Everyone may not believe, as I do, that our town has a problem, but we must, at the very least, be willing to listen to one another.

“An inflammatory social media post mischaracterizing a peaceful gathering caused our city to panic. Instead of reassuring businesses and individuals that Batesville is a peaceful, tolerant place, organizers felt pressured to cancel .... Pretending a problem doesn’t exist will not make it go away. Even if Batesville was truly naive enough to think diversity is not a problem we face, it must at least support citizens in their right to speak and be heard. Our young people are driving much of this discussion, and I am extremely disappointed in those that have tried to bully them into silence.”

“Moving forward, I hope that Batesville will offer its support of peaceful events and understand that there are people of color in our community that feel ignored and, yes, sometimes even targeted .... Many nearby communities have had successful demonstrations .... It can be done.

“So, please, let’s work together and be proactive about supporting people of color in our community.”

Cassie Holtel announced, “The biggest lesson here is all voices should be heard. There’s a lot of racial ignorance in the community, and it does trigger a lot of people to be more angry and defensive. It’s very scary that our town is not very accepting of people of color.”

Police Chief Stan Holt explained, “We first heard about it (the vigil) on social media about 24 hours before it was to take place. When I saw it, I wasn’t alarmed, and I talked to the mayor about it .... Then more and more people were making comments on social media, and it was getting more and more negative. The mayor asked what our safety plan was. I said, ‘No one (who organized the vigil) talked to me’ at that point. The mayor talked to one of the people in charge and asked what her safety plan was, and there wasn’t one in place.”

The officer pointed out, “I made it clear that they could meet downtown, and I could have officers on site. Our job is to keep everyone safe .... I was getting calls from businesses around town and I talked to them. As the day went on, I reached out to other law enforcement agencies (Indiana State Police and Ripley, Franklin and Deaborn County Sheriff’s Departments). If there was a really big crowd, we wanted to make sure everyone was safe .... I talked to the (vigil) contact person, and she said, ‘We’re going to cancel it.’”

Holt noted, “If someone wants to do these demonstrations, and if they want us to put a safety plan in place, we will work with them, and I will make sure I have officers available.”

“I feel good about our community and our police department.” In a June 5 press release, he stated, “Over my 13 years as police chief, I have never received a complaint of excessive use of force against our officers. Every officer hired by the BPD goes through an extensive background investigation. This includes a polygraph and psychological examination “to ensure we are not hiring any candidate with prejudices or predisposed tendencies of committing senseless acts.”

“Being a police officer is a difficult job,” he stressed. “When I watched the video of George Floyd, it made me sick. That is absolutely the opposite of what law enforcement is.”

“Our country is in complete turmoil,” Holt reported. “If there has ever been a time for the community to come together, it’s right now .... We got off to a rocky start because of a communication issue. A lot of people thought the vigil was canceled because of the mayor or police chief, but it wasn’t.

“My No. 1 priority is to make sure everyone is safe. If you’re planning to do something and you want officers to be out there, let me know.”

BCC member Jim Fritsch said he noticed people were gathering downtown June 4 even though the vigil was canceled. “I stopped in out of pure curiosity. I didn’t go there as a representative of the city. I was there to be a listener and get the facts.”

Member Darrick Cox emphasized, “This is not just a Batesville issue, but a national issue as people deal with the emotions that come out of it .... (and) the peaceful protests that are going on are overshadowed by the violent ones.”

Mary Dickey pointed out, “I think everyone wants what’s best for our community, and we want to be safe. I think Batesville has an opportunity to be more inclusive, and we can all be part of this dialogue and find out what we can do to promote diversity and inclusion.”

Helen Williams said she received calls from her children who live out of town because they saw the negative posts on social media and were worried about her safety.

The police chief commented, “I don’t think that this group (who organized the vigil) brought fear into this community. They just wanted their voices to be heard.”

Pepe Paras said, “Let’s be respectful to both sides of the argument .... Communication is the most important dialogue.”

Councilman Tracy Rohlfing, who thanked everyone for attending and voicing their opinions, recommended, “Perhaps you guys could get together and have a spokesperson and make suggestions of what we can do to make changes in this community.”

Xenophontos and Holtel agreed to work on a list.

Mayor Mike Bettice said, “If we’re going to have an honest dialogue, we need to communicate without all the anger .... We have to come together and have a calm, rational discussion and talk about things. We may feel strongly about something, but we have to learn to control our emotions and learn to take a deep breath.”
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