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Wheeling forum focuses on racial issues

By JOSELYN KING

The Intelligencer

WHEELING, W.Va. – Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said he finds recent videos showing actions of certain law enforcement officers disturbing – and that it breaks his heart that many urban residents across the United States do not trust the police.

The Wheeling NAACP sponsored a discussion on racial justice Thursday night at Wheeling Jesuit University, and Schwertfeger was among those participating. He provided his take on recent police actions getting publicity across the nation.

“I don’t know if I would agree with the majority of the room on many things,” he said. “Certainly, my heart breaks when we talk about the status of our country. I really want us to be one country – all Americans, all on the same team. The videos that play are disturbing – very disturbing … There were policy violations on those videos,” he said.

“The main thing that bothers me is that there would be a mistrust – a lack of trust in the public service. We in the law enforcement community don’t always get it right, but I think it’s fair to say the majority of times we do. Just like in any profession, there are those that paint us all with a negative brush because of their actions,” Schwertfeger said.

Ron Scott Jr., founder of the Ohio Valley African American Student Association, said the recent riots across the nation are indicative of a surpressed spirit held by those in urban communities. As someone who counsels youths, he indicated he understood the feelings behind those involved with the riots in Baltimore.

“We do have to stand up at times,” he said, directing his comments to WJU students present. “We do have to get more assertive at times … We do have to at times put some distance between us and the peaceful marching and the happy singing and Martin Luther King.

“No disrespect to the pioneers of civil rights and trailblazers, but I don’t want you to continue to get flattened down. You have a spirit inside you like everyone else. And there will be times when you have to express it and others won’t understand it … Every now and then, you have to tear stuff up,” Scott said.

The panel discussion on race was scheduled at WJU months ago following issues between police and blacks in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City, and prior to events this week in Baltimore surrounding the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.

“These incidents indicate we have a continuing problem, and continuing problems need continuing solutions,” said moderator David Fryson, vice president at West Virginia University for the division of diversity, equity and inclusion.

He said a continuing dialogue on racial justice is needed in America because sometimes an individual’s understanding of truth is limited.

“We need to start embracing the truth of people who are not like us,” he said. “If I have a conservative view, I need to start embracing those with a liberal view. If I have a liberal view, I need to start embracing those with a conservative view. Somehow, we need to learn to have these kinds of conversations somewhere in the middle. Looking at us as a country, we’re starting to come apart. We are failing to listen to one another,” Fryson said.

“Forum Focuses On Racial Issues” The Intelligencer 01 May 2015: A1

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