As the room filled to just below capacity, the Theta Ro chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, played “Lean on me” by Bill Withers.
Students, faculty and representatives from local law enforcement agencies hummed along to the image of a black man with his hands raised before blue and red flashing lights.
The group gathered in the Academic Learning Commons for a “Know Your Rights” forum on Sep. 25 to address the growing cases of police shootings of allegedly unarmed black men.
More than 700 people have been fatally shot by police in 2016, according to Washington Post data.
“The history of our fraternity is in civil rights,” said Christian Xavier White, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha and moderator for the event. “It’s our duty and our responsibility, not just as human beings, but as well as in the values that our fraternity holds to serve our community.”
Representatives from the Richmond Police Department, VCU Police Department, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office and President Rao’s office were among the panelists. White and Jazz Johnson, another fraternity brother, moderated the event.
Wanya Reese, a VCU junior, said as a young black man, he came to the forum seeking guidance for interactions with law enforcement.
“Being an African-American especially in America comes with a different set of standards — a different way that you’re expected to conduct yourself,” Reese said.
The forum included four topics: deeper understanding of police officers, brutality and role reversal, bias and reporting measures for officer misconduct and community involvement with local police.
The panelists did not see the questions prior to the event and were given time to answer them thoroughly before opening the floor for a Q&A with the audience.
Reese said he appreciated the forum and helped work through a difficult but necessary conversation.
“The United States has a pretty rough history, but the issue is that we don’t want to talk about that history. We want to sugar-coat it and hide it, but it’s very important that we engage with that dialogue.”
Hiba is a senior studying broadcast journalism and religious studies. In addition to writing for the CT, she is the campus editor-at-large for the Huffington Post, a blogger for MuslimGirl.net and president of United Muslim Relief at VCU. This summer, Hiba interned with the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, D.C. She previously interned with Voice for America and as a web content intern for VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.
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