Benjamin Edney & Hannah Collings – Staff Writers
CLARION, Pa.- On Oct. 27, The Washington Post’s recent record estimated that there had been 792 fatal encounters with law enforcement for the year of 2016. It was this data and a combination of grievances and sadness that students met in the Gemmell Student Complex for a discussion on police brutality hosted by the Clarion University’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Kyle Butcher, a junior dual majoring in marketing and management and the president of Clarion University’s NAACP, said this was the third time they had hosted an open dialogue for students, and considered it to be one of the most successful so far.
He said, “It was the most diverse and more progress [has been] made having a dialogue on race and ethnic relations. We got on the solution instead of just focusing on the problems.” An estimated 30 to 40 students attended.
Jason Hendershot, director of public safety at Clarion University, spoke at the beginning of the event to lay the foundation of discussion.
Hendershot referenced his experience in law enforcement at Carnegie Mellon for 16 years. Hendershot spoke with students about how past police agencies operated on understanding crime in terms of statistics and not community equity. This is a problem that many agencies have begun to address, he said.
Earlier the same day, Hendershot participated in training for Pennsylvania’s Act 120 program. The program is a requirement in the state that every individual interested in being employed as a police officer must complete. The module Hendershot was involved in focused on interacting with members of the community and increasing the integrity and trustworthiness of law enforcement.
Hendershot emphasized that a large part of an officer’s duty involves “interacting with the public, and there are a lot of locations that are not doing this correctly and that’s something we’re slowly beginning to address.”
Hendershot was met with frustration from students whose families have experienced discrimination by the criminal justice and court systems. One student stated, “I still believe slavery is full-run by the prison system.”
Slavery was mentioned as being an uncomfortable subject which many Caucasian Americans attempt to repress, but a fact of their history which cannot be ignored. Another student summarized the need for its acknowledgment in society: “You don’t just tell a Jewish person to forget the Holocaust.”
While the conversation teetered back and forth on the large-scale versus small-scale impact of excessive police force and institutionalized racism, many students presented and spoke about their own struggles of identity and personal experiences being a person of color.
One student told a story of when he was pulled over by a police officer. The explanation given to this student by the officer was, “I just wanted to make sure this was your car.” Hendershot replied that this action was not within the officer’s rights.
“In the state of Pennsylvania, you are not allowed to pull someone over just to see if it’s their car. If that happened in Pennsylvania, I would call the department and file a complaint.” When it is Hendershot’s duty to pull someone over he says that, “I tell you who I am, I tell you why I stopped you.”
Graduate student and president and founders of the QUEENS organization at Clarion University, Traesha Pritchard, admitted, “I am scared every single day. When I am pulled over, I think I’m gonna die.”
However, she later said that what the black community needs from whites is not pity, but allies, something which at Clarion University, they are lacking according to Pritchard. Racism on campus, Pritchard said, “is a huge problem that’s swept under the rug.”
Torron Mollett, the political action chair for Clarion NAACP, supported Pritchard in the reason he provided for this event. Not Another Hashtag was an opportunity, “for everybody to get a better understanding of where everyone is with police brutality, so we can end the problem.”
Mollett, a senior political science and criminal justice dual major added, “If we keep going like this in America, we’re never gonna get anywhere.”
NAACP is an organization open to all students. After the event, Mollett offered applications to attending students. Anyone interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.