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Town hall planned to address racial injustice in the Twin Cities

ST. JOSEPH, Mich -- A town hall is scheduled for residents in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph to address law enforcement relations and racial injustices.

The SHARP foundation organized the event after over 1,000 people participated in the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor unity march three weeks ago.

On Friday, activists, city officials and residents will meet in the Berrien County Courthouse parking lot for a socially-distanced town hall.

“To talk to the community and speak to the community about the changes that are going be made, about some questions that are going to be asked, and we need to hold our officials accountable,” said Gwen Swanigan, SHARP foundation founder and CEO.

Residents in St. Joseph and Benton Harbor marched in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement during the May 31 event.

Yet, organizers say the marching path itself was symbolic of the stark differences between these cities.

“The bridge is what they say connects us, but to me it divides us, so we wanted to march over the bridge into Benton Harbor because if we are twin cities, we’re fraternal cities because we’re not just alike,” said Swanigan.

Friday’s forum will give residents of both cities the opportunity to ask officers and politicians questions and tell them the changes they need to see.

“It’s something that we need to look at,” said St. Joseph Mayor Mike Garey. “How Black Lives Matter and that it’s a house that racism built. I’ve built it and I need to be one of the people to help dismantle it.”

Garey — acknowledging himself — the responsibility he has to help make systemic change here at home.

“If you are a white person, the minute I’m born I have certain advantages over another group,” said Garey. “And those are the issues we really need to take a look at because we’re all human beings, we’re all trying to do the best that we can. But one element [for] the African American community, that for over 400 years has been held back by structural – not individual – structural elements and we need to adjust those.”

Friday’s event will go from 6 to 8 p.m. and is open to the public. It will also be streamed on sharp-foundation.org

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