Graduates gain understanding of police in Charlotte Citizens Academy

2014 CMPD Citizens Academy Graduates: From left, front row, Lee Sowers, Latavia D. McClain, Dawn Harris, Rebecca Jordan, Sandra Petralia Lutz, Melisa Ann Young, Kush R. Shah. Second row, Angel Bullock, Jenni Jackson, Gail M. Sanders. Third row, Carol McLaughlin, Shamika Lawrence, Marcus P. Boyd, Angela Pierce. Fourth row, Tracy L. Cox, Mayra Lozano, Ernest Jones Jr., Charlotte M. Peterkin, Gregorio A. Welch, Charles K Whittington Jr., Laura Edington. Back row, David J. Heuvelmans, M.A. (Tony) Hayes, Randy D’Agostino, Trina Renea Young, David J. Spinks, Clarence S. Darnell, Byron R. Martinez, Theodore Kramer III, Ann Radford, Ken Kilpatrick, Cindy J. Hazen, Timothy Shelton and David E. Smith Jr.

By Crystal O’Gorman

For information on CMPD’s Citizens Academy, contact Maria Williams, 704-432-1655, or visit

Seventy-five friends, family members and police officers applauded the 34 graduates who took the stage at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Citizens Academy graduation June 24 at the Police and Fire Training Academy.

Larry Robinson, a longtime Citizens on Patrol volunteer and past Citizens Academy graduate, was the guest speaker. Robinson recounted how CMPD had become a part of his family, supporting him when he was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and when his mother died.

“Above everything I have learned and experienced, the CMPD has given friendship and loyalty to me and my family,” he said.

“Their endless compassion encouraged me to heal, and now I am doing what I enjoy most: helping them,” Robinson said.

Charlotte’s Citizens Academy was created in 1994 to give the community an opportunity to learn more about the roles and responsibilities of the police, how they train and how they serve the community.

Since the academy’s inception, 271 residents have graduated.

Training Coordinator Officer Kobe Moore said, “The Citizens Academy gives a behind-the-scenes look at our policies and why we do the things we do. … We want to show the public we are pretty transparent in our actions and reasoning.”

Capt. Demetria Faulkner-Welch said, “It also helps us learn more about the public’s concerns and perceptions of us.”

During the ceremony, Training Coordinator Maria Williams commended all 41 graduates, including those unable to attend the ceremony, on their commitment to the program and their genuine interest in the police department.

The graduates were just as enthusiastic about the CMPD’s commitment to the community. “This class gave me a deeper appreciation of how they put their lives on the line,” graduate Clarence Darnell said.

“This class made me want to get more involved,” said Sandra Lutz, who now volunteers with the CMPD’s Animal Control.

Byron Martinez, an Hispanic community advocate, said, “Being a mediator for the Hispanic community, I often hear about the suspected wrongdoings of law enforcement, and this opportunity has helped me see the human behind the badge. …

“I will take this deeper understanding into account in my work and use it to better understand both sides of every situation.”

The Citizens Academy is open to all Mecklenburg County residents who are at least 18 and can pass a background check. Graduates are required to complete nine educational workshops and eight practical activities within two years.

The educational workshops inform students on the history of the CMPD, police selection and training, as well as in-depth explanations of various arms of the police department, such as Internal Affairs and Criminal Investigation. Practical activities give hands-on opportunities to learn defensive tactics, firearms training, police driving, traffic-stop procedures and crime reporting, search and forensics lab work.

Crystal O’Gorman is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Crystal? Email her at

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Get ready for the race!

Unidos We Stand race is our major fundraising event of the year that celebrates Unity; help those whos have had their families broken apart due to strict immigration unfair laws, and most importantly, raise funds and awareness for the prevention of unlawful practices and deportations.

All fees are non-refundable and non-transferable, even in the event of inclement weather. The Race is a 5K (3.1 miles). 90% of our registrants choose to walk rather than run the 5K. We also offer a one mile walk.

Any Questions reguarding the upcoming race please contact us

La lucha por los inmigrantes en Gaston

laluchaporlos1, Unidos We Stand Charlotte.- El activista Byron Martínez está comprometido en la cruzada de defender los derechos de los hispanos.

Hace poco más de tres años, el nicaragüense Byron Martínez disfrutaba de una vida cómoda en Miami, alejado de los problemas de la comunidad.

Se había graduado de la Universidad de Miami (UM) y estaba ejerciendo su carrera en el ramo del comercio internacional, en exportaciones e importaciones.

Viajaba al Caribe, Centroamérica y Sudamérica, pero una circunstancia familiar le cambio su destino.

laluchaporlos2“Mi esposa se enfermó y nos tuvimos que trasladar aquí a Carolina del Norte, donde tengo familia”, cuenta Martínez.

Se afincó en el Condado de Gaston, cerca del centro médico en donde su cónyuge recibía la atención.

Entonces empezó a escuchar de injusticias que se cometían con sus vecinos inmigrantes, con sus conocidos que no hablaban inglés, y en él operó lo que en el idioma de Shakespeare se denomina una “epifanía”.

Encontró que su existencia estaba marcada por el camino del servicio comunitario. Desde entonces, se ha anotado unas victorias importantes.

Siendo voluntario de una iglesia, en 2012 desafió al Sistema Escolar del Condado Gaston (GCSS), que estaba obligando a estudiantes latinos a firmar contratos antipandillas.

Acudió a la Oficina de Derechos Civiles del Departamento de Educación de Estados Unidos en Washington y la Unión Americana de Libertades Civiles (ACLU) y logró tumbar la práctica en 2013.

Al conocer los efectos del programa de deportaciones 287g en el Condado de Gaston, decidió confrontar a la oficina del alguacil local y al Departamento de Policía, donde hizo un curso de academia ciudadana.

Esto le dio pie para sacar gente de la cárcel. “Puedo decir que las conexiones que he hecho me han permitido evitar la deportación de casi una decena de personas”, dice Martínez, durante una conversación telefónica rumbo a Georgia, para atender el caso de un mexicano, que fue trasladado a una de las cárceles privadas de ICE.

“No soy abogado, pero sí entiendo lo que es reclamar los derechos de la gente”, dice Martínez, de 38 años, quien tiene el propósito de formalizar la creación de una organización no lucrativa en la zona.

“A veces me llaman en la madrugada. Pero eso si no ayudo a borrachos, ni a gente involucrada en drogas.
Mi preocupación son los trabajadores con los que se cometen injusticias”, dice el activista.

A Martínez se le localiza en el (704) 572-4412.

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Schools label Kids gang members, but they’re not

Not in gang

(Photo by Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette) (L-R) Mario Avila Jr., Mario Avila Sr. and Enrique Avila pose for a photo in the livingroom of their home on Spring Valley Drive in Gastonia Wednesday afternoon, February 27, 2013.

Mario and Enrique Avila’s names aren’t in a gang database.

But other teenagers could be on the statewide gang members list used by law enforcement if their school systems use gang contracts and share the names of those students with police.

Gaston County Schools used gang contracts as a way of identifying students suspected to be in gangs for four years, sharing the names of students who signed gang contracts with Gaston County Police.

Names of gang members go into the N.C. GangNET database, which is designed to track information on individual gang members.

It’s like being on the federal “no fly list,” said Raul Pinto, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

A person might not know he’s on the list until he tries to board a plane. Pinto fears the same thing might happen to young people police suspect are in a gang because of the contracts formerly in place at Gaston County Schools and being used in other school districts.

The GangNET database requires validation before someone’s information goes into the system, according to Tammy Martin, spokeswoman for the Governor’s Crime Commission. Someone must meet several gang-related criteria, like having a gang tattoo, admitting to being in a gang or using gang hand signs or lingo.

Labeled and signed

Mario and Enrique Avila were two of 252 students tagged as gang members by school administration from 2008-12.

Mario Avila was a sophomore at Bessemer City High when a school official reported he flashed what looked like a gang sign.

His younger brother, Enrique Avila, was a sixth-grader at Bessemer City Middle when he was flagged as a gang member for wearing a rosary, he and his parents said. The Avilas are Catholic.

At first, school officials accused the Avila brothers of being in rival gangs, but then changed Enrique’s suspected gang affiliation to match that of his brother.

Both students say they were intimidated into signing gang contracts after being called into their school’s office. The brothers were both suspended. They felt frustrated and hurt being labeled as gang members without any real proof.

Father Mario Avila said he didn’t understand the documents he signed when school officials asked for parents to sign off on the gang contracts for each son. He was asked to come to the school’s office to sign the paperwork. He said the gang contracts weren’t translated into Spanish so he could understand what he was signing. Avila felt like he had no choice but to sign the contracts if he wanted his children to remain in the school system. The other families shared similar stories of accusations and intimidation.

Fighting back

The Avilas and at least two other families filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

They alleged the district discriminated against their children because of their origins, that the district didn’t provide adequate translation and interpretation services, and that the district did not provide a suitable program for Spanish-speaking students. All of the families that filed complaints were Latinos who spoke Spanish.

The ACLU of North Carolina and the North Carolina Justice Center also got involved to address what they considered troubling issues that violated the students’ rights — how they were questioned, how school officials determined they belonged to a gang and how parents were notified.

Last semester, the families received word from the Office of Civil Rights that their complaints had been closed. Gaston County Schools agreed to make changes to its English as a second language services and programs.

Gaston County Schools stopped using gang contracts when the 2012-13 school years started. All previously signed contracts were removed from student files, according to a letter Kristi Harris, an attorney with the Office for Civil Rights, sent to Byron Martinez.

Martinez helped the local families file their complaints and acted as a liaison with school system investigators. He contacted the ACLU and N.C. Justice Center to get more help for the families fighting to get their children’s names cleared from any suspicion of gang activity.

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