Russell Simmons is as afraid of a confrontation with police as most other Black men.
However, despite a recent incident in which he was pulled over by cops in the Hamptons, the RushCard co-founder and music mogul is most concerned about the relationship between African-Americans and law enforcement.
“I have a healthy fear [of being pulled over],” said Simmons who was a keynote speaker at a convention of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) in the nation’s capital on Tuesday, July 19.
“The other day I was pulled over in the Hamptons and I was scared. I was really scared,” he said.
“There was a rabbi behind me and [the officer] told the rabbi, ‘You go ahead and keep it moving.’ I told the rabbi to stay right here. I didn’t think they were going to abuse me, but I was scared.”
Simmons' remarks came after recent tragic events involving police officers and young Black men in Baton Rouge, La., Falcon Heights, Minn., and Dallas, Texas.
At the NOBLE conference, Simmons and RushCard announced the expansion of their partnership and support of The Peace Keepers, a nonprofit whose goal is to maintain peace in communities where gun violence is high and whose mission is to bridge the growing wedge between law enforcement and the African-American community.
The Peace Keepers are also partnering with NOBLE in an effort to strengthen relationships between the Black community and law enforcement. Simmons spoke of building stronger relationships between communities and the police, restoring community faith and trust in law enforcement.
He also discussed ways to reduce community deaths at the hands of law enforcement as well as methods to help eliminate violence towards police officers.
“My heart is broken for the families of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the law enforcement officers in Dallas who senselessly lost their lives,” Simmons said.
“While I am saddened and outraged, I realize that throwing my hands up in frustration won’t accomplish anything,” he said.
Simmons continued: “RushCard is prepared to help finance The Peace Keepers and the valuable work [The Peace Keepers founder] Captain Dennis Muhammad is doing in communities throughout the country. I also look forward to partnering with NOBLE to bring law enforcement to the table to build bridges that will ultimately save lives.”
Muhammad, who also attended the NOBLE conference, said men in particular and the community in general must take responsibility to help make their neighborhood a decent and safe place to live. That also means working in partnership with law enforcement, he said.
“However, due to the recent national attention of police misconduct and controversial shootings of young Black males, police and community relationship is at an all-time low,” Muhammad said. “The lack of trust and respect with the police or the ‘Them vs. Us’ is not new. It goes all the way back to the Civil Rights era where we would watch on TV police sick the attack dogs, use fire hoses, beat the marchers with night sticks, and we have also seen them use the butt of their guns. These images were seen all across America and left a bitter taste in the mouths of Black Americans across the country.”
Muhammad said that we no longer view the police as friends and helpers, we see them as foes or enemies.
“We need police, we cannot live in a lawless society. However, we must not go backward, but move forward and not give up on building a relationship of mutual respect with the law enforcement community,” said Muhammad.
Further, Simmons said he sympathizes with Black officers who have a tough job.
He said he wants to build a bridge between them and the community and between the Black officers and their White counterparts.
“We have 25 cities where The Peace Keepers are funded by RushCard,” Simmons said. “We want to work with police, not only in protecting our community, but building a bridge so the future can be different from where we are today.”
Simmons continued, “It’s obvious the Black community has had trouble with police for many more years than we’ve had iPhones. I announce that it is better today than yesterday, which is surprising to some, but Black law enforcement is sensitive to it and uniquely aware of the issues we have had for hundreds of years.
“Now, we come to this point in time, where everyone knows how bad it is, because they see it on the iPhone and with the advent of the GoPro, we have awareness and with that awareness we want to promote change and positivity.”
The biggest lament expressed by Simmons was the absence of members of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“If Black lives matter, you have to have dialogue. There was no way to get Black Lives Matter with the police on this stage together? I don’t understand that,” he said.
“In our community, we believe we need a revolution. We need a revolution in how we engage with police and vice versa, so revolutionaries create a discussion and we have to create organizations to guide you and, in some cases, give you direction.”
The Def Jam Records founder also spoke of the importance of having a special prosecutor for police involved incidents.
In New York, after legislation failed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order mandating the use of special prosecutors in such cases. Simmons said a special prosecutor likely would have indicted the officers in the Eric Garner case.
“Having a special prosecutor is a simple give to the community,” he said. “In the Garner case, [the officer] looked guilty but the local district attorney didn’t indict. With a special prosecutor he would have been indicted and went to trial.”
While many argued that Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby should have called in a special prosecutor for her case against the officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, Simmons agreed that Mosby may have erred, but still applauded her efforts even as a judge continues to acquit the officers involved.
“She was courageous and went against the grain. The local district attorney in Staten Island could have indicted the officers in the Eric Garner case, but didn’t,” Simmons said.
“The Baltimore case wasn’t as easy as the Garner case and I applaud Mosby for trying. I know it didn’t work out and they’ll probably get rid of her now because they probably believe she betrayed [the police department].”
Simmons appearance at the conference was a reflection and extension of NOBLE’s national president’s recent role on a panel that the RushCard founder convened last month in Los Angeles to address the needs for reform in the criminal justice system, said Dwayne Crawford, the executive director of NOBLE.
Crawford added: “NOBLE looks forward to working with RushCard and Russell Simmons to build bridges and strengthen communities throughout the country.”