By Bhakti Larry Hough
In mutually beneficial relationships, the parties know each other and are prone to look out for each other’s best interests, says Bennie Swans.
Swans, chairman of the Carolina African American Heritage Foundation, Inc. (CAAHF), said that’s why his organization developed its Community Law Enforcement Appreciation Committee. The committee holds monthly public meetings. The last one was Wednesday, February 27 at 12 noon at Margaret’s Soul Food Restaurant at the intersection of highways 378 and 501 in Conway.
“This is about connecting communities with law enforcement and improving those vital relationships,” Swans said. “There are 16 law enforcement agencies from our region involved in this effort. We meet every month at different locations and recognize one officer from an agency with an award.”
Detective Tyres Nesmith of the Conway Police Department was February’s honoree.
CAAHF is a multi-faceted group that focuses on the needs of Myrtle Beach and surrounding areas and promotes cultural, arts and educational programs relative to the history and culture of African Americans living in the Carolinas, according to the organization’s mission statement.
CAAHF established the Community Law Enforcement Appreciation Committee three years ago, said Swans, a native of Philadelphia, Pa., who has lived in Myrtle Beach for 20 years. As is often the case, the committee grew out of crisis and the need to fill a void.
“The impetus for this effort was a series of conflicts between police and neighborhoods of color,” said Swans a Viet Nam veteran and Purple Heart recipient. He added that relationships between law enforcement personnel communities of color are often tenuous due to poverty, hopelessness, and lack of opportunity in those communities, as questionable police practices.
Therefore, mutual alienation due to lack of dialogue and efforts to communicate “further complicates the equation,” Swans said. “So, we found it necessary to create those linkages that lead to better mutual understanding.”
That’s why CAAHF supports and engages Cops, Kids and Community programs to build mutual understanding and trust, he said.
In 1975, Swans founded Philadelphia’s Crisis Intervention Network, an organization that engaged governmental and other institutions on a range of issues affecting the community. In such work anywhere in the nation, including Myrtle Beach, it’s important to dispel the myth among some law enforcement and other community institutions that in communities of color, “nobody gives a damn.
“All people want to see a reduction in crime and to live in safe communities, but everybody has to work together toward that end,” Swans said. “There has to be the understanding that people care about their communities and parents do care about their children. But unfortunately, too often, there is a sense in communities of color that law enforcement has a tendency toward administering justice on the street instead of in a courtroom.”
Still, in a civil society, law enforcement performs a vital function and efforts like Community Law Enforcement Appreciation Committee show respect and appreciation for the people doing a very difficult job. Such efforts also help to ensure that law enforcement is held accountable and fulfills its duty to serve and protect in the best interests of the communities it serves.
“I would encourage Florence and communities everywhere to continue to look at how to build and sustain relationships with the law enforcement community, “Swans said. “You can’t go wrong with proactive efforts to build relationships. That’s always a step in the right direction.”