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’Acknowledging the divide’: Police chiefs, community come together to talk race

This talk covered a myriad of issues plaguing the relationship between officers the community they serve

The video and images seen around the world of police officers’ interaction with Black people have recently forced communities to reassess these policies and practices.

ROANOKE, Va. – Race. It’s a simple, four-letter word that has made its way into many conversations within the last few months.

For some, watching the death of George Floyd filmed live during a traffic stop with Minneapolis police motivated a fight for change. For others, that fight has been ongoing.

The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has served as a lighthouse, highlighting racial inequities in many areas: education, housing, childcare, the job force and more.

“When you talk about acknowledging the issue, one of the most exhausting things, as we are advocating for our community, is trying to prove that something that exists, exists,” said Bryan Moss, the pastor at New Praise Temple of Deliverance in Lynchburg.

Policing policies and practices are perhaps at the center of this movement.

The video and images seen around the world of police officers’ interaction with Black people have recently forced communities to reassess these policies and practices.

“I feel like we were doing it the right way. Now, hindsight being 2020, the right way is not always the only way or the best way,” admitted Danville Police Chief Scott Booth.

Part of a much larger conversation, WSLS 10 News brought together police chiefs from Southwest Virginia’s largest cities and three community members they serve for a candid conversation on the current state of policing, calls for reform and how the community can play an active role in the process.

“So do you all think that when you go out, and you talk about officer safety, do you all feel that tension when you go into an upper-class neighborhood?” questioned Shakeva Frazier. She is the leader of a Danville-based non-profit.

“I would say that there are certainly circumstances where that occurs,” admitted Roanoke Police Chief Sam Roman. “Many may not have noticed this, but I’m African American. I mean, I get it. I think that as we have these conversations, and as we expose, and make the officer understand that you may have that feeling when you see a young African American male, where your sense of fearfulness is heightened. We need to have those conversations with our officers.”

“When I hear that people are afraid to call the police and sometimes the police are afraid to show up for people I’m like, ‘Okay, so this isn’t working for anybody.’ We’re talking about humanizing police, to me that says, this system is not serving them either,” stated Tatiana Durant, a leader of No Justice No Peace Roanoke.

“I couldn’t agree with that more. I truly believe that some of the things that law enforcement has to do should be scaled back. Most social issues are laid at the foot of the police, and they are not the best equipped to handle that and Tatiana is right. It’s a no-win situation for all,” stated Roman.

“It’s not so much always what we do. It’s how we do it, right? We treat people with respect, no matter how we find them, right? Whether it’s someone who’s in mental health crisis, whether it’s a homeless person, whether it’s someone who’s in the worst of the worst or they are the richest of the rich, poorest of the poor or anything in between, we have treated all those people by the golden rule, right? And sometimes we don’t always get that perfect,” said Lynchburg Police Chief Ryan Zuidema.

Police chiefs and community members from Danville, Roanoke and Lynchburg were present.

The conversation, which took place over an hour inside the Harrison Museum of African American Culture, covered a myriad of issues plaguing the relationship between officers the community they serve -- specifically Black individuals. With little interference, we allowed the talk to flow and breathe in a natural way.

Here is our full conversation:

10 News gathered three police chiefs and three community members to talk freely about the relationship between officers and those they serve.

About the Author:

McKinley Strother joined the WSLS 10 News team in June 2020. He anchors 10 News at 6 and 11 on Saturdays and Sundays and you'll also catch him reporting during the week.