How One W.Va. Police Department is Fighting Racism


Last week in Charleston, a white man shot and killed a black teen, 15-year-old James Means. The accused told police, “The way I look at it, that’s another piece of trash off the street.”

Unlike other cities where similar things happened, Charleston did not erupt into violent protests.

Part of the reason may be the Charleston Police Department itself. During a decade of leadership under Chief Brent Webster, the department has made transparency, improving communication with the community and fighting systemic racism a major goal.

Leading those efforts is Cpl. Errol Randle, CPD’s Strategic Planning Officer. Randle spoke with The Front Porch about the soul-searching his department is doing…as well as some of their innovative outreach programs.

Those include:

–       Project West Invest, which helps Charleston police officers buy homes in the troubled West Side neighborhood (including Randle himself.)

–       RESET, a group of faith leaders who serve as a line of communication between community members and the police

–       Call to Action for Racial Equality (CARE). This is not a CPD program, but CPD is partnering with the coalition to help tackle systemic racism head-on.

That systemic racism shows itself in Charleston’s arrest statistics. Blacks make up about 12 percent of the city’s population, but are 28 to 30 percent of arrests.

And even though blacks and whites report using illegal drugs at the same rates, blacks in Charleston are more than three times as likely as whites to be arrested for possession.

Randle says the department is working with CARE to remedy any unequal treatment through:

–       De-escalation training

–       Implicit bias training

–       Publishing monthly arrest statistics across race, age, gender, and cause of arrest

–       Body cameras

–       A new Youth Advisory Council

Randle quotes Gandhi in saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

And he also mentioned his favorite Bible verse, Matthew 5:9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“The Front Porch” is a place where we tackle the tough issues facing West Virginia and Appalachia with some of the region’s most interesting thinkers.

WVPB Executive Director Scott Finn serves as host and provocateur, joined by Laurie Lin, a conservative lawyer and columnist, and Rick Wilson, a liberal columnist and avid goat herder who works for the American Friends Service Committee .

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