City, WSSU team up to talk about trust
More than 100 students from Winston-Salem State University met with officers from the Winston-Salem Police Department and WSSU Campus Police in an effort to create open communication and build trust among the two groups.
The Collegiate Trust Talks: A Human Relations Approach to Police and Student Dialogue forum was held Oct. 5 at the Reaves Student Center.
Moderated by Wanda Allen-Abraha, from the Winston-Salem Human Relations Department, the forum gave students and officers a chance to examine their feelings about each other and discuss police shootings across the nation that have birthed rallies, sit-ins and marches calling for social justice and equality when it comes to police training and African-American communities.
It’s a matter that hits close to home for Nailah McElvane, 19, a sophomore marketing major at the University. This is her second time attending one of the Trust Talks and she calls it an interesting experience.
“It showed me a different perspective of the Winston-Salem Police Department and our own campus police department,” she said. “I came to listen to what people have to say and view their perspectives.”
The Charlotte native said that she was “never a fan of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department” and that the handling of the Keith Lamont Scott shooting has been “mishandled from the beginning.”
Scott, 43, was killed while police were serving a warrant at The Village at College Downs apartment complex in northeast Charlotte. His death sparked days of protesting across the city and have led to the questioning of local leaders and law enforcement. The State Bureau of Investigation has stepped in to conduct its own investigation.
“I don’t know that they do these in Charlotte but I wish we had something like this there. I personally feel as if CMPD has been faulty from the beginning. For all of the focus to be on our city for something so horrible is unfortunate and it’s scary,” McElvane said. “It makes me wonder what’s going on in there (CMPD) or who’s in charge and making these decisions.”
The forum was kicked off by WSSU police chief, Patricia Norris, herself a former WSPD police chief, and followed by current WSPD Chief Barry Rountree. Both asked those in attendance to keep an open mind and respect other’s truths.
City Councilman Robert Clark was also in attendance for the event.
“The main reason I’m here tonight is to listen and figure out what we as the city can do to do a better job in our public safety area,” he said. “It disturbs and frustrates me that we seem to keep shooting ourselves in the foot, so to speak, all over this country. What can we do better to make this community and university a better place?”
After a brief icebreaker, there was a discussion on stereotypes and misconceptions about police officers and students. Students described police as cruel, up to no good, trigger happy and out to get them while officers threw out descriptions like radical, disrespectful and loud music when it came to students. This talking point led to small group discussions, that included officers and students, and were led by employees from the Human Relations Department.
Jaylon Herbin, a political science major and chair of the Political Action Committee on campus, said he felt that it was important for his group to get involved and promote awareness which is why they helped put the event together.
“We felt as a HBCU that it was time for us to become more active and aware in our community so we can eliminate the injustices that are going on around us,” he said. “Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news and tell parents that their loved one was shot and killed. We want students to know what their rights are as a citizen, especially as an African-American.”
From those small group discussions, the groups agreed on several solutions including more communication, more positive one-on-one encounters, ride-alongs, overcoming biases and prejudices by remaining open-minded and separating national events from the reality of local police.
As a graduating senior, Herbin said that he has the normal jitters that you get when graduating but it has heightened with national shootings over the last few years.
“Knowing that I have a target on my back because one my gender and two my race is another component that scares me. Being able to take away that I can trust and know that people in uniform, as far as my city and my campus, are here to protect me and our community is something that can’t be denied or taken away from me,” he said. “Being able to create that bond is something that’s meaningful and invaluable.”
McElvane says that she doesn’t think relationships will truly be built until changes are seen on a higher level but admits the Trust Talks are a good start.
“We can say all of these wonderful things and form these relationships but one of these people could shoot a student tomorrow. For me I don’t think there’s anything that us talking to the police department can do. We need to talk to the state, the people who are in charge and conducting police training. It needs to go further in order for real change to happen.”