BY SABRINA BATES
DRESDEN (August 28) –As discourse and division sweep headlines across the country, a group of community members are working to ensure matters of discrimination and diversity are addressed through the first-ever Weakley County Civil Rights Board.
A handful of individuals from different sectors in the county came together Friday afternoon as volunteers with the same purpose – to be open-minded about issues pertaining to civil rights.
Weakley County Emergency Management Director Ray Wiggington facilitated the group’s introductory session Friday, August 28, 2020, in the conference room of the Sheriff’s Department. Wiggington already serves as the county’s Title VI coordinator, American Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator and public safety officer. He was given the nod by Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum to spearhead the county’s first-ever Civil Rights Board.
Wiggington welcomed those in attendance by announcing “it was an historic time for Weakley County.”
“These days it seems like our nation is very divided. In times like this, our community will be looking to us as community organizers and leaders as examples of how to operate. In addition to that, we cannot afford for ourselves to become divided as well. Our citizens deserve better than that,” the EMA director shared.
Wiggington said he was reminded of the quote, “a house divided cannot stand,” expanding on how the county has yet to experience that because of the “excellent character, ethics and professionalism of our leadership, such as our Mayor Jake Bynum,” who spurred the creation of the Weakley County Civil Rights Board.
Built with the ideals of diversity and professionalism as its backbone, Wiggington said the board is in place to serve several functions:
* To assist county employees if there is an accusation of discrimination in the workplace;
* To educate county employees and the public on diversity concerns to ensure there are no accusations of discrimination and
* To eventually act as a guidepost to the public to point them in the right direction and give them resources to work with if they have a civil rights issue themselves.
Weakley County Sheriff’s Inv. Marty Plunk spoke to the group about what it means to have the open discussions necessary when it comes to civil rights. He also shared some insight into the department’s use of force continuum.
“We have got to be able to talk with one another if this is going to work. We’ve got to be out in the open and we need to be able to discuss what’s on our hearts and minds, even if we disagree,” Plunk told the group.
He explained how in his line of work, he has to look at the intent behind situations and a person’s motive. When it comes to discussions about civil rights, Plunk reminded board members civil rights go deeper than just matters of race.
As a nearly 30-year member of law enforcement, Plunk also highlighted the department’s protocols for the use of force, which is similar to a recommendation by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. He said the department’s continuum was already in place before the state’s recommendation came down the line.
Plunk said the department handles matters first with presence, then direct orders and if the use of force is necessary, officers will use a Taser. Plunk said once it gets to the point of utilizing a Taser, he has yet to see an individual not comply.
Board member Morgan Robertson, a representative of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, said she didn’t know about the department’s continuum and was looking forward to more open discussions as well as an opportunity for board members to share their own stories with one another.
Tara Tansil-Gentry, a UT Martin representative, reiterated the idea of sharing stories with one another and wants to learn more about others to know what is indirectly offensive.
Robertson said she invites people to see transgender and color to see the struggles one may go through.
Danny Browning, Deputy Director of the Weakley County Sheriff’s Department, added to the discussion talking about how the group is a positive thing for Weakley County.
“Everybody in this room has a story to tell. I think we can all come together and be open-minded and offer mutual respect,” he shared.
Wiggington closed out the session by offering the view that “we are all the same” is one that is short-sided, as “we are all different.” He asked board members to go out into their communities keeping the principles echoed at the meeting in mind, introduce candor and practice patience with one another.
The Weakley County Civil Rights Board will meet again at noon October 9, 2020.
Board members also include Weakley County Administrator of Elections Alex Britt, Anne Marie Norrid and Aldo Aguilar.