CANFIELD — Canfield can’t agree on whether the community has a race problem.
At a town forum Thursday night, about 50 residents met at Fair Park to discuss "Diversity, Policing and Progress." In doing so, city leaders and community members addressed the unspoken reputation of their town — that Canfield is not welcoming to Black people.
One man who did not wish to be identified yelled during the forum, "There is no problem here!"
Canfield resident Sally Ifill said in response, "When you say there's not a problem, what you really mean is there's not a problem for you."
The problem isn't racist policing, police Chief Chuck Colucci said.
“What’s happening nationally — I don’t see it,” he said. He was referencing aspects of systemic racism that have come to light during unrest in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd.
Floyd, a Black man, died on Memorial Day in police custody after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.
"We are blessed we don't have those big city problems," City Manager Wade Calhoun said.
Despite claims that Canfield doesn’t have “big city problems,” the community has had bouts with racism in its past.
In his book "Steel Valley Klan," William Jenkins makes multiple references to Canfield as a locus of Ku Klux Klan activity.
In the 1920s, the local Klan chapter met “at its Kountry Klub field in Canfield.” Imperial wizard Hiram Evans notably made an appearance at the Canfield Fairgrounds in 1924.
In June, during a debate on the Ohio Statehouse floor about Confederate flags at state fairs, state Rep. Erica Crawley, D-26th, remembered going to Canfield only to go to the fair.
As a Black child, her mother warned her of the presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Canfield.
"It's just something that we always knew," Crawley said. "You're not welcome in Canfield, so stay out of Canfield."
On Thursday night, multiple speakers referred to that part of Canfield’s history, which lives on in the belief by some that people of color could become police targets while driving through the city.
Policing in Canfield
“I’m here to tell you that’s not happening from our police department,” Colucci said.
So far in 2020, the Canfield Police Department has made 886 traffic stops. Of those, 85 percent of the drivers were white, and 10 percent were Black.
Colucci shared the statistic to dispel rumors that the community criminalizes "driving while Black."
"I don't want an African American or a Hispanic or somebody that's Oriental fearful to drive into Canfield," Colucci said.
Colucci added that a race complaint has not been lodged against police in Canfield since he became chief in 2009.
When Colucci provided the statistics, event organizer Ashley Kanotz asked if the data could be more readily available. She suggested the creation of a citizen oversight committee that would look at various practices in the city.
Mahoning County Patriots
A youth group from Sojourn to the Past accompanied by Director Penny Wells did not speak until late into the conversation. They weighed in on a debate between white Canfield residents as to whether the community is welcoming.
"I don't feel welcome," Ke'Lynn Dean said. "There's no hello. There were no smiles. There's guns here. There's guns at a park. That's why I'm scared."
Dean was referring to a group of white men standing together at the edge of the pavilion at Fair Park. Most were wearing shirts with American flags. One had a gun in a holster on his belt.
The man who open-carried his gun approached Dean after the forum to explain why he was carrying a gun and why he didn't smile at the guests.
He did not wish to be identified, but called the group, of which he was part, the Mahoning County Patriots.
He said the statistics shared by Colucci prove that local police are not racist. He said he carries his gun openly as a safety measure and resents that people see him and immediately assume he is racist.
He said he wasn't smiling because he felt his group was judged for attending, too.
A "more welcoming" community
Ifill described being at a racial justice rally in Canfield on Father's Day. She said the event was peaceful, except for some detractors.
"They really revved their big trucks and swore at us," she said, describing her group as a "bunch of educators and librarians and yoga instructors" who were subjected to "the finger."
Ifill added, "It wasn't warm and fuzzy."
When those same people claim Canfield is welcoming, she said, "It's laughable."
She said that protest and Thursday's forum have started the conversation about race in the community, but it's certainly not over.
When Dean finished speaking to the group, he said, "Maybe you guys could be a little more welcoming."
Mayor Richard Duffett said making Canfield more welcoming is part of the city's comprehensive planning process.
He aims to establish events to attract people to the community but said the plans have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When asked about the next steps for addressing race in Canfield, Sojourn to the Past participant Brittany Bailey said, "We have to have the conversation again."