Will Eugene Jemison join Tisbury PD?

‘Olive branch’ offer to local activist reportedly included police academy sponsorship.

Eugene Langston Jemison, shown here holding a sign at Five Corners in June, may be offered a job with Tisbury Police. — Brian Dowd

Local Black Lives Matter activist Eugene Langston Jemison has entered discussions with Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio about receiving police training and joining the Tisbury Police Department. While the two shared different perspectives on the scope and detail of the offer discussed, the general willingness to talk with each other appeared undisputed.

On Monday, Jemison told The Times he’d spoken with Saloio over coffee at Sweet Bites in Tisbury and discussed policing matters in general, the Tisbury Police Department, and Jemison’s call for a police department community oversight committee. Jemison also said Saloio extended an offer for him to learn more about the department and potentially work for it. He said this offer included a proposition whereby Saloio would sponsor Jemison at a police academy and pay for his education. 

“I’m seriously considering it,” Jemison said. 

In an email to The Times Tuesday, Saloio didn’t confirm any specific plan was in the works with Jemison.

“In speaking with Mr. Jemison, I encouraged him to apply, should he wish to, for a traffic officer position in the future should one become available … Concerning attending any police academy, this would only be attainable, by anyone, after having completed and satisfied all required prerequisites as per MPTC [Municipal Police Training Committee] regulations. I expressed to Mr. Jemison my willingness to talk in more detail, in the future, should he wish to obtain additional information, but there are no pending plans at this time, and I have not been contacted by Mr. Jemison.”

Jemison said his conversation with Saloio occurred roughly two weeks ago. After about an hour of conversation at Sweet Bites, they walked and talked and went to the Tisbury Police Department, according to Jemison. There Jemison said he met officers, toured the building, and reviewed paperwork relative to the police academy. 

“He asked if I’d be interested in coming to work for him as a part-time or a full-time traffic cop or reserve cop,” Jemison said. 

In a follow-up email, Saloio wrote, “We spoke, in general, about Mr. Jemison’s background, from his perspective, when we first met in person. Out of respect to him, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to go into more detail, as this was in private. There is no offer of any definitive sponsorship to any academy, as referenced in my previous correspondence, but there is always a willingness to discuss it, including the requirements, in the future should he wish to. This is the same feedback I have given to many people, and am always happy to speak and provide information to anyone who has potential interests or questions about law enforcement.”

Whatever offer is on the table, Jemison said he’s encouraged. 

However, he said his wife had some reservations about the idea of working for the Tisbury Police Department. At 51, Jemison admitted he’s “never” worked for a police department before. And he thinks it would be difficult to adhere to the police “code of silence” if he detects police wrongdoing. 

 “We really don’t see eye to eye on some things, on others we do,” he said of Saloio.

Jemison described Saloio’s willingness to talk with him and to broach police opportunities with him as appreciated “olive branch” gestures. 

Concerning Saloio’s alleged offers to sponsor and pay for police academy, Jemison said, “That let me know it was real.”

He said he learned Saloio publicly reiterated the offer a few days ago at Beetlebung Corner.

Amy Cuzzupoli recalled it was Friday when Saloio visited the daily vigil there. She said Saloio talked with folks and told them about upcoming diversity training for Island police departments. She recalled that he said several times, “We work for you.” 

At one point he asked if anyone knew Eugene, she recalled, and he said he’d “offered Eugene a job.” She characterized it as “a surprise,” but it seemed “heartfelt,” like the rest of what he said. 

“My personal conversations with Eugene Jemison covered a wide array of his personal life experiences,” Saloio wrote Wednesday. “I respect Eugene very much, as well as his positions, and place value on his support for high-quality police service in our community. I am hopeful that Eugene will partner with us, in whatever capacity may be most beneficial in the future, to both educate and support all of us in local law enforcement to help protect and serve our local communities. I look forward to speaking and hopefully working with him in the future on such endeavors.”

Asked Monday if he was aware of Saloio offering Jemison a job, select board chair Jim Rogers said he wasn’t aware, and noted the town was under a hiring freeze. 

Asked Tuesday if he was aware of Saloio’s offer to Jemison, select board Larry Gomez said he’s received “absolutely zero information” and didn’t know Jemison. “I don’t think I could recognize him in a lineup,” he said. 

Another topic Jemison said he and Saloio discussed was an oversight committee for Tisbury Police. He said Saloio was onboard with the idea. “He would like to see something like that,” Jemison said. 

Saloio expressed a different viewpoint. “I did not speak of this, but I have observed Mr. Jemison voicing his support for it,” he wrote. “Any conversation or decision involving something like that would need to be first addressed at the individual town level, if so desired.”

“We all need a voice,” Jemison said. “We all need a place at the table.”

At present, Jemison said, Vineyard law enforcement and those who govern it are “all people that don’t look like me.”

He said he feared police-related issues would go unreported to the Vineyard’s NAACP chapter, and noted a police chief leads that chapter —  “Of course I think that’s a problem. It’s really amazing to me that [a] police [chief] is the head of NAACP and he’s white — even though from what I understand he’s a great guy.”

Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake, who is president of the Vineyard’s NAACP chapter, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. 

Jemison went on to say he envisioned people of “all walks of life” and “all races and cultures” on the oversight committee, and he said he hoped the committee had subpoena power. 

He said as things stand now, some people he’s spoken with don’t bring grievances to the police, notably in Tisbury, because they fear no outcome or a negative outcome. Some, he said, feel as though they’ve been racially profiled in traffic stops in Tisbury. He said he’s not confident Chief Saloio is aware of the scope of the problem, but believes Saloio is making an earnest attempt to learn more. 

However, Jemison stressed he generally has faith in the Vineyard’s police. “The vast majority really care,” he said.

And he said he believes in their necessity. “Without law, there is no order,” he said.