Community Concerns Fall On Deaf Ears
A Letter To The Editor
By Crystal Hutchinson and Melisha Anderson | Wednesday, August 26, 2020
“Hell, if you go in and rob a bank and you come out and get beat up, maybe if you didn’t rob a bank, you wouldn’t get beat up when you came out. It’s not a black and white thing, some people put themselves in those situations.”
These words stumbled out of the mouth of Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, causing a series of confused looks, deep sighs, thrown-up hands, and scoffs. After all, this event had been designated to address the unwarranted use of force on citizens, especially those who are Black and Brown, by law enforcement officers. In a few short weeks, two incidents have gone viral involving the Wildwood Police Department where excessive use of force was displayed, though no officer has been charged. One particularly harrowing incident involved a mother being violently arrested in front of her children. Here is where officers who are properly trained would have applied humanity, instead of the law.
On August 25th, 2020 around 30 concerned citizens from throughout Cape May County lined the bleachers at Maxwell Field in Wildwood. In front of them stood Mayor Pete Byron, County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland and Chief Robert Regalbuto. This event was coordinated by Cape May County Indivisible in response to Chief Regalbuto’s notable absence in town hall meetings and his silence on the growing incidents and complaints of police brutality in Wildwood. Though present, the Chief’s responses to the public outcry were ironically and maybe expectedly out of touch.
“Hell, if you go in and rob a bank and you come out and get beat up, maybe if you didn’t rob a bank, you wouldn’t get beat up when you came out. It’s not a black and white thing, some people put themselves in those situations.”Mayor Pete Byron
While Prosecutor Sutherland spoke on his implicit bias and White, male privilege, as he often does, the Mayor and Chief seemed completely unprepared for the meeting and refused to admit that systemic racism or profiling is a problem in Wildwood. “Specifically about race: we are not looking to identify anyone by race regardless of the color of their skin, your choice of religion, your choice of sexual orientation. We try to treat everybody exactly the same, every time. I think most police agencies are doing that,” Regalbuto tried to explain. This explanation often seems noble to the person speaking it, but is dismissive, problematic and counterproductive to the persons who are disproportionately impacted by police interactions.
Both the Chief and the Mayor danced around the issue and made general statements, careful not to indict themselves as complicit to accusations of racism or biased policing. When asked about a July 12th incident, in which an officer was videotaped repeatedly punching a suspect in the face, while he lay on the ground, held down by another officer, the Prosecutor’s Office found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the officers involved. Chief Regalbuto claimed he could not comment because the investigation is still ongoing, despite the question being about the officers’ conduct and not the ongoing investigation or prosecution of the suspect being arrested at the time.
Chief Regalbuto did state that implicit bias training was done in 2017 for officers, but that the trainers are at his discretion. This was problematic given previous statements by the Chief that alluded to his own bias. The chief seemed extremely defensive in his answers and would not directly respond but offer vague, shielded answers to a crowd which not only grew in size over the two hours, but also grew impatient and upset as the minutes ticked by.
No one present had a solution for what could be done, but the entire audience agreed that there can be no moving forward until Chief Regalbuto admits that there is actually a problem. Toward the end of the event when the mayor finally spoke, he put his foot in his mouth. It is unbelievable that he even would suggest that a criminal should be beaten for their crime. However, that is what he actually said. The worst part was that he did not understand what he said wrong. The fact of the matter is that he didn’t say much right.
Cape May County Indivisible is appalled at the words of Mayor Pete Byron and Chief Robert Regalbuto. It is apparent that racism runs deep in Wildwood and starts at the top.
Crystal Hutchinson and Melisha Anderson are co-chairs of the Racial Justice Committee for Cape May County Indivisible.
A protest is being organized by Cape May County Indivisible in front of Wildwood City Hall on September 2, 2020 at 5:00pm.
- End qualified immunity.
- Civilian review boards now.
- Make police misconduct records public.
- Reparations and investment in BIPOC communities.
- Learn/teach the REAL history in our schools.
- Remove all monuments & symbols of genocide and white supremacy.
- End mass incarceration -start drastically reducing prison population.
- End all profiting from jails and prisons.
- Restore the right to vote to currently incarcerated people.