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Policing, Race Relations to be Discussed at Stark County Town Halls

a photo of protester talking to police
Policing and race relations in Canton and Stark County will be discussed at two 90 minute town halls planned this week.

Organizers of a town hall meeting tonight in Stark County are hoping to deepen community dialogue about policing and race relations.

John Spitzer, Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Israel Canton, and Ron Ponder, former president of the NAACP in Stark County, have been helping organize the meeting tonight and another one on Thursday at Faith Family Church in North Canton. Ponder is moderating the sessions. He thinks there’s something to learn from what’s been happening in Canton.

RON PONDER: I'm going to let the mayor (Tom Bernabei) and his the folks from City Hall, present their case. And then I'm going to open it up to some to the community who wants to ask questions based on that presentation.

a photo of Ron Ponder
Ron Ponder has worked to improve race relations in Stark County for more than two decades. He will moderate two town halls on the topic this week.

It's my personal opinion, in working with the city of Canton over the last 15 to 20 years, that it's really, I think the city of Canton and other departments in Stark County can actually be examples for the rest of the country. Now they're not perfect, but they do have a lot of things in place that I think other communities can look for, or look to, to augment what they're doing right now with their safety forces.

SARAH TAYLOR: Can you talk about a couple of those things?

RON PONDER: One is psychological evaluations during the hiring process. When I was deputy mayor, I, through former mayor Sam Purses, we instituted that. I think that's one of the reasons why some of the officers most of the officers that I'm aware of in the Canton Police Department are so much more, shall I say, qualified--and that's in quotations--than previous applicants.

SARAH TAYLOR: These events are being organized by the Stark County Collaborative on Race Relations. John, can you talk a little bit about the history of that group?

JOHN SPITZER: Well, the actual group--the collaborative--is very, very new. It really only came into existence after the murder of George Floyd when our community needed to make a concerted effort to deepen the conversation.

The working together on issues of race relations between Ron Ponder and myself in our community goes back 25 years and more when we started with this, actually the Stark County town hall on race relations that morphed into Coming Together Stark County, which is a diversity organization.  

SARAH TAYLOR: John, you mentioned that this group, there are elements of it that date back two decades. Do you look at the situation right now and think 'my gosh, we've not come as far as I thought we should have'?

JOHN SPITZER: Well, certainly that's the case. Over the years, as anybody who's involved in organizational work will know, that there's often sometimes some political issues and leadership issues and so on and so forth, so that there's a kind of competition.

a photo of rabbi john Spitzer
John Spitzer has been working to improve race relations in Stark County for more than two decades.

But what's unique about this particular time, I think, is that we've begun to form some new associations, because the problem is bigger than any individual organization. So we're having conversations with people who were not at the table before or not at the table with us before. And I think those conversations are very positive.

SARAH TAYLOR: Personally for you, Ron, I just wonder, because you're a black man, and there has been an enlightenment maybe a little bit because of what happened to George Floyd, and now people are thinking about all the other people who have been adversely impacted. One of the things you said is you want to foster open and honest conversations. Sometimes these can be uncomfortable. How do you approach that and what awareness do you hope to raise in people?

RON PONDER: Well, you're right about the conversations being uncomfortable, but I don't really care about that. I care about the facts. I care about people understanding reality about what's going on. And when I first saw the news reports of Mr. Floyd, I got mad. It really irritated me, because I'm tired of talking about racial issues. I'm tired of it. I've been doing it and society has been doing it here in the United States for the last 400 years. So I was hopeful, am hopeful that this might be the turning point for people to really start understanding that systemic racism is a deadly issue. And we have to solve that problem and we have to talk about it, bring it out front, and call it for what it is. And I'm hoping that after these two town halls, we could begin to do that even moreso.

The Stark County Collaborative on Race Relations will hold two town hall meetings on policing and race relations:

  • Tuesday, June 30 @ 7:00 p.m. will focus on the city of Canton
  • Thursday, July 2 @ 7:00 p.m. will focus on Stark County and surrounding communities

Both sessions will take place at Faith Family Church, 8200 Freedom Ave NW, North Canton, OH 44720.
In person attendance is limited due to social distancing measures. Those interested in attending should email a request for tickets to StarkCountyCORR@gmail.com. The email subject line should include the word “invitation” and the date (6/30 or 7/2) you’d like to attend. You can ask a question virtually by emailing StarkCountyCORR@gmail.com. Put the word “question” with the appropriate date (6/30 or 7/2)  in the subject line.

Both sessions will be streamed on Coming Together Stark County’s Facebook page and right here at wksu.org. 


A Northeast Ohio native, Sarah Taylor graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she worked at her first NPR station, WMUB. She began her professional career at WCKY-AM in Cincinnati and spent two decades in television news, the bulk of them at WKBN in Youngstown (as Sarah Eisler). For the past three years, Sarah has taught a variety of courses in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State, where she is also pursuing a Master’s degree. Sarah and her husband Scott, have two children. They live in Tallmadge.