If a black man were killed by police in Greenwood under suspicious circumstances, would this city erupt in looting and rioting like what has occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, or, more recently, Baltimore?
Bob Provine believes not.
“I think we have a fantastic black-white relationship,” Provine said this morning at the monthly prayer breakfast of the Leflore County chapter of Mission Mississippi.
Provine, a white retired business owner, said, “We are not a battleground, for lack of a better word, as these places have been.”
Although several others in the audience of both races agreed with Provine, some blacks in the gathering of 50 were less confident of a peaceful resolution in such a scenario.
“I say (rioting) is doubtful to a degree, but no place is safe. If you don’t have anything, you don’t have anything to lose,” said the Rev. Paula Milo-Moultrie, pastor of Samuel Chapel United Methodist Church.
She said she was perplexed why these protests often turn into a self-destructive gutting of the very communities where the alleged victims of injustice live.
“I wouldn’t do that,” she said. “I would take the fight to where it would be most effective. I’m not going to tear up my own stuff. I am going to go where those white police officers live.”
The leaders of Mission Mississippi, a non-denominational Christian-based group that promotes racial reconciliation, said they were taking a chance by opening up this month’s discussion to reflect on the racial turmoil that has erupted in other parts of the country as a result of deadly interactions between police and male black residents.
As the gathering inside the fellowship hall at First United Methodist Church broke into small groups to tackle the subject, the discussions were lively but respectful, concluding with doses of prayer.
“A gathering like this can give us a lot of optimism about race relations,” said Meredith Allen, the president and CEO of the cotton cooperative Staplcotn.
Dorothy Olton, a black retired schoolteacher sitting across from the white businessman, agreed. “When we come together like this, it helps us in a lot of ways,” she said.
The Rev. Peter Gray, an Episcopal priest who co-chairs the Leflore County chapter, said that although it was gratifying to hear some of the comments today that this community is capable of resolving its conflicts peaceably, that is not reason enough to be complacent about the state of race relations.
“It would be too easy to say that because we don’t have riots, we don’t have issues with race,” Gray said. “That’s not a very high bar to clear.”
His own trepidation about injecting today’s topic reflects how much progress still needs to be made in building trust between whites and blacks, Gray said.
“I know in my heart there was some fear in introducing this conversation. And if there was fear there, it tells me that we’ve still got more work to do.”
The other co-chair, the Rev. Calvin Collins of New Zion Missionary Baptist Church, said Greenwood has the advantage of its people being more connected to each other because of the area’s rural underpinnings. Still, he said, elements exist here that could boil over into the type of unrest recently exhibited in more urbanized areas.
“Anytime you have a people, whatever that people group is, that are unemployed, that are frustrated, anytime you have those dynamics, it can happen, I don’t care if it’s in a city of 20 folks. ... Will it? I give 99.9 that I don’t think it will, but I think those ingredients are scattered out there.”
• Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or email@example.com.