Cocalico Corner: A week full of the blues

By on July 13, 2016
Donna Reed, author of the weekly column, Cocalico Corner

The tragic and heartbreaking events last week in Minneapolis, Baton Rouge, and Dallas sparked millions of conversations — and one of them occurred Friday afternoon in the Review/Record newsroom.

As the staff dwindled down to a final four, a mild discussion about diversity and law enforcement in our coverage area, which, of course, includes the Cocalico municipalities, quickly became more animated.

We talked about diversity — or the shocking lack of it in the coverage area. We weren’t armed with numbers at the time, but the staffers with deep roots in the area were pretty sure of their arguments that the components contributing to the week’s tragedies were not terribly at issue here.

Indeed, a review of local demographic statistics on Census.gov might very well back up their views.

Checking out Census QuickFacts for Ephrata borough and township, West and East Cocalico townships, Denver and Adamstown boroughs, and Lititz borough indicates that, averaged out, the folks in our coverage area are 94.7 percent white, .91 percent African American; and 2.75 percent Hispanic.

Contrast that with U.S. and Pennsylvania QuickFacts statistics: Commonwealth residents are 82.7 percent white, 11.7 percent African-American, and 6.8 percent Hispanic, while Americans as a whole are 77.1 percent white, 12.6 percent African-American, and 17.6 percent Hispanic.

So, it’s starkly clear that the Ephrata/Cocalico, and throwing in Lititz, areas are, at least from an insular, community perspective, less apt to experience the issues that marked the awful week of July 4 in this nation.

Still, it would be foolish for us, or any community with such overwhelmingly disparate figures, to believe we — or our law enforcement officials — are exempt from the contemporary and contentious issues of racial discrimination and alleged police brutality.

We may be insular demographically by choice or tradition, but geography puts us squarely in the melting pot of the Northeast and MidAtlantic.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike runs through the heart of Cocalico.

What has become known as the Route 222 Corridor places, especially Ephrata, in the middle of urbanites traveling between the cities of Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Reading, Lancaster, and York. And, the far ends of that corridor, are short jaunts to the New York and Baltimore/Washington metro areas.

The folks in those vehicles are certainly representative of their cities, all of which except Bethlehem and Easton, have majority minority populations of African Americans and Hispanics.

With the daily traffic volume on just Route 222 in the tens of thousands, the chance that a controversial police traffic stop would happen here is not out of the question. And the possibility that an involved motorist and/or passenger would be African American, Hispanic, or another minority is pretty high.

Those arguments all factored into our newsroom conversation as did a clear and worthy loyalty to the local police forces that cover our area so well.

I wondered, as one or another of my colleagues made his point, how our conversation might have differed if any of us would have been individually impacted either by an incident of police brutality or by the death of a police officer we knew.

A decade ago, within 24 months, we lost two police officers in deadly shootings in the City of Reading. While I didn’t know either personally, as a city councilor I was among the officials paying personal respects to the victims’ families. One of the shootings occurred in my district and walking the streets in its immediate aftermath, speaking to emotionally shattered residents, many of whom were minority, was an experience that will stay with me forever.

A few hours after our newsroom discussion, I joined some of my city council colleagues at the 11 p.m. roll call at the Reading Police Department. The platoon preparing to go out on the streets was comprised of many younger officers, most of whom reflected the rapidly changing demographic of our city. Also at the roll call was our new chief, a Reading native and the first Latino to hold that office.

The platoon was briefed on what to be especially aware of that night, including a list of wanted individuals connected with cases of robbery, prostitution, and grisly child abuse.

The chief expressed his appreciation of all his officers and advised them to especially take care of themselves. As councilors, we had the opportunity to say thanks and pay our respects and condolences to their fallen Dallas colleagues through that visit to our officers.

All the while, over all our shoulders, were the framed images of Reading’s two fallen officers, one all the more poignant with a section of the officer’s sleeve emblem included in the wall hanging.

Certainly on the platoon members’ minds was the vulnerability they would face on a hot, dark night on urban streets. Also, too, were thoughts of the cellphone images of one of their own in a confrontation following a vehicle pullover just months before. Charges against the officer were dropped, but the images and the judicial decision stoked anger in the minority community that is very real.

Flash forward to Saturday afternoon in Ephrata. An incident at the Ephrata community pool over cultural dress modes resulted in a call for a police response.

The full story is yet to be pieced together, but I had the chance to speak with one of the folks involved, a member of what is still a religious minority, in this nation — and certainly locally.

While concerned about the police response to the issue, the woman was effusive in her regard for the Ephrata police officers who dealt with a sensitive cultural situation.

“The police were amazing,” she told me.

On a Facebook post she noted: “Two officers came, both were sweet as pie…”

At this point, I can’t tell you who these officers were, but I’ve relayed her positive comments to Ephrata Chief William L. Harvey, himself a seasoned officer with urban roots.

The chief was justifiably pleased with his officers.

“Thanks and what you told me be sure to tell the readers as well,” he said.

In a week so filled with negativity and sadness, that’s one request I’m very happy to fulfill.

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