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Allentown councilwoman, community organizers call for reform after run-in with parking enforcement officer

An Allentown city councilwoman and community organizers called for better training of parking enforcement officers this week in light of an altercation with an officer Saturday prior to the Allentown Family Day festival in the downtown Arts Park.The city had issued a permit for the event, hosted by the Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley nonprofit organization. But city officials did not alert the Parking Authority about the event, so parking enforcement officers patrolled the area as usual Saturday.Additionally, a barricade the city had dropped off Friday evening to block Court Street west of Fifth Street was stolen or misplaced by the time organizers arrived to set up Saturday morning. Barricades are an additional signal to parking officers that an event is permitted.Cynthia Mota, a city councilwoman since 2012 and a Promise Neighborhoods employee, and community organizer Millie Canales, were unloading a vehicle on Court Street by the Arts Park when an officer confronted them for parking illegally. Allentown City Councilwoman Cynthia Mota (April Gamiz/)Mota said she showed the officer an emailed copy of the event permit. She said the white officer, identified only by his badge number, “talked down” to her, was impatient and demanded to see her driver’s license despite seeing her City Council ID badge. Mota felt her ethnicity contributed to his skepticism. “He was really disrespectful,” she told the authority board of directors at Wednesday’s regular meeting. “He didn’t care that I serve the city. … He just saw a woman of color, a woman who is less than him.”The initial encounter between the officer, Mota and Canales compelled Hasshan Batts to confront the officer. Batts videotaped his confrontation and live-streamed it to Facebook.Batts, Promise Neighborhoods’ director of operations, criticized the officer for not recognizing Mota as a councilwoman and himself and Canales as community organizers. He repeatedly asked the officer if he resides in the city.Hasshan Batts (Madeleine Cook / The Morning Call/)Batts then took offense to the officer describing him as a “black male with a gray beard” while the officer was on the phone with his supervisor. Batts on Wednesday called the description a “microaggression,” and said the officer should have described him using other characteristics such as his approximate height, age, name or apparel.WATCH: Hasshan Batts confronts Allentown Parking Authority officer Daryl Hendricks and Candida Affa, Parking Authority board members who also serve on City Council with Mota, said they would ensure city employees communicate more effectively with the Parking Authority ahead of permitted events.Hendricks, Affa and authority managers also defended the officer’s unfamiliarity with a local politician as understandable, and said his description of Batts as a black male is a standard practice and not indicative of any racial animus.“This was a perfect storm,” Affa said.Batts acknowledged being upset while recording the encounter and said he “could have handled things differently,” but also asked the Parking Authority to address “systemic issues” and ensure its officers are more adept at conflict resolution and de-escalation tactics.Another resident, Rodney Bushe, suggested the officers should undergo cultural competency training and/or sensitivity training.John N. Morgan, executive director of the Parking Authority, said the officer was hired less than three months ago and has been on patrol about three weeks. Morgan said he would consider additional training and orientation requirements for new hires. FLASHBACK: Councilwoman Mota voted 11 times for Batts, her boss, to be appointed interim mayor Canales said the Family Day event was a success despite the incident. More than 600 people attended the four-hour event. But she lamented the polarizing debate the video has instigated on Facebook, and suggested too many people dismiss race’s role in the encounter.“He could have done his job with a lot more customer service, and that’s the key,” Canales said. “We’re asking for a solution to the disrespect, to the way he handled a minority and spoke to us as women.”Morning Call reporter Andrew Wagaman can be reached at 610-820-6764 or
Source: Morningcall

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