HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A meeting between Holland police and minority teens was supposed to foster understanding and harmony, but a threat now being investigated by federal authorities caused that forum to be scuttled.
But police, public officials and organizers representing the youth say they will not be stopped in their quest to improve interaction between the public and law enforcement.
The forum was set for last week at the Boys & Girls Club in North Holland by the teen program coordinator to provide answers for teens troubled by recent events across the nation of violence involving police.
“I talked to some of our kids about what was happening and they had questions for me about the police, about what was going on that I couldn’t answer for them,” Shutaveya Ward, teen program coordinator, said.
So a forum was planned that would give kids and cops a chance to talk. But instead, Holland Public Safety Chief Matt Messer said reports of suspicious activity and threats came in over social media against police and public officials who were slated to attend the July 13 event.
“Ten years ago, you would’ve said, ‘Oh, come on, something like that would never happen.’ But in today’s world, I just don’t feel like you can say that anymore,” Mayor Nancy DeBoer, who planned to attend the forum, said.
The exact nature of the threat has not been made clear, other than that they were anti-law enforcement.
But Chief Messer said the threat was serious enough that investigation was turned over to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He said the ATF, which usually investigates actions related to bombing and arson, is also working with the West Michigan Enforcement Team, a joint taskforce that usually investigates drug crimes but is on this case because its members are familiar with the potential suspects and the Holland area.
The chief said a suspect or suspects have been identified and it is being determined what, if any, charges will be brought.
But while the original forum was cancelled, the Boys & Girls Club has still had community meetings, including one with some police. The mayor said they are waiting until they get the OK from law enforcement before rescheduling a full forum.
Some who attended those forums attended only by law enforcement say they appreciate the effort by police despite the cancellation.
“It made me realize that they are also human and they have lives aside from their jobs,” West Ottawa High School student Latriceana Henderson said.
Staff member Damonta Madden agreed.
“A lot of the teens are young and were minorities and I think it was a great thing because they came and talked to the people who feel the worst about what’s going on,” Madden said.
The teen director for the club says the efforts will continue.
“The more that the police are seen, the more the police connect with community, the more positive it can be,” Ward said.