MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Protesters gathered at the Raymond J. Lane Park in Morgantown to march to the West Virginia University Police Department to speak out against the recent incident involving WVU Police Chief William Chedester.
During a Campus Conversation specifically geared towards diversity and inclusion, Chief Chedester had a, “thin blue line,” flag which is commonly associated with support for police officers and “Blue Lives Matter,” hanging up behind him in his office.
Following the conference on Wednesday, Chedester issued a statement saying the flag had been given to him as a gift and to him, it represented a way to honor the commitment he made as a first responder to protect the community. Chedester said that now he understands the flag represents something that was traumatic to some members of the community who tuned into the Community Conversation.
“I sincerely did not have any intent to suggest that police lives matter more than Black lives nor was I intentionally trying to cause any harm or offense,” Chedester said in his statement. “I apologize for how this has damaged the trust I have worked to build with the community. I am committed to rebuilding that trust beginning today. I am taking the flag down from my office wall.”
However, for organizer and Solidarity for Equality and Compassion (SEC) member, Sammantha Norris explained that although the apology was appreciated, it’s not enough.
“Police officers that are working on campuses need to be knowledgeable about the issues going on, on campus and in the world because they’re a direct representation of the university, no matter what anyone wants to think,” Norris added. “If you’re wearing a West Virginia University Police [uniform], you’re a representative of West Virginia University. You have to know displaying those like thin blue line signs is not going to go over well.”
Norris and other organizers have collaborated on a petition to defund and disband the WVU Police department, reallocate funds to black-led university initiatives and bar confederate flags and symbols on public grounds.
Below is a quote from the petition:
To hope this letter finds you well during such a time of unrest is perhaps a strong ask. We do, however, hope you are finding moments of respite and insight in the midst of this historic movement. We want to thank you for your swift commitment to addressing racism on campus “with open eyes and open hearts” and proclaiming a “personal responsibility to do better.” These are noble and imperative endeavors that your students, faculty and staff need. However, these words must quickly turn into action because the gravity of this matter requires a response with equal vigor.
We are writing to urge you to rectify the white supremacist ideologies, ideologies that stem from the all white Board of Governors and the lack of black professors and leadership, that underlie our University with the same diligent attention that was put forth to address the COVID-19 pandemic because racism is a pandemic that spreads and devastates lives, as well.
We offer a five-step plan that is needed to provide a safe and open University for students to attend from West Virginia, the U.S. and all over the world. We urge you to:
1. Prohibit Confederate flags and symbols on all public spaces of the University.
2. Disarm University Police. Having officers work under the campus name who carry firearms does not create a welcoming and inclusive space, especially for Black, Indiginous, and people of color (BIPOC) students and visitors.
3. Require yearly bias and sensitivity training, as well as bi-annual town halls with the campus police so students and faculty can voice any issues, complaints, and queries.
4. Re-route a portion of the policing budget to aid in the mental and social welfare of students, particularly to the Carruth Center and the WVU Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
5. Foster a working relationship with the Morgantown Police Department for any calls needing armed backup, as well as sporting and entertainment event backup.
We urge you to prohibit Confederate flags and symbols that are as deeply rooted in white supremacy as the Nazi flag and swatikas. The Confederate flag is a part of our history, but not one that should be celebrated or honored. West Virginia was founded by leaving Virginia and the Confederacy to stand on the right side of history. We would like you, President Gee, to make that same decision to stand on the right side of history and make West Virginia proud again.
To read the full petition, which has 60 signatures at this time, click here.
The group marched from the park, to the Police Department, up Van Vorhis and returned back to the park.