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Protesters gather to raise equality awareness

By Staff | Feb 23, 2018

Vanessa McGuigan/Chronicle Crowd gathers for the annual Black Lives Matter rally on Presidents Day.

Presidents Day brought a couple dozen people to the “wall” in Shepherdstown to help raise awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Two years ago, rally organizer Frances Brolle felt she needed to do something to help combat racism and injustice toward people of color. To Brolle, Presidents Day, which is during Black History Month, was the perfect timing to hold such a rally.

“I’m incredibly upset about the increased racism in our country,” Brolle said. “In conversations with Jefferson County educators, I’m told there is an increase in bullying and racial comments by white students this past year.”

She referenced other violent racist attacks in the nation within the past year and mentioned the hotly debated plaque on the county courthouse in Charles Town that has come under fire in recent months.

“In our own county, the commissioners refuse to remove a plaque from the Charles Town courthouse that honored Confederate soldiers after complaints from some people of color.”

Brolle said the BLM movement wants police to be trained more and rely less on use of force, in addition to the use of body cameras and independent investigations. Brolle also mentioned the fact that people of color are disproportionately incarcerated; according to the NAACP, 56 percent of inmates are black or Hispanic, while those two minority groups only make up 32 percent of the U.S. population.

According to the Washington Post’s database of police-involved shootings, about 40.7 percent of the people killed by police were black or Hispanic in 2017.

Statistics from the ACLU say black students are suspended or expelled three times more often than whites, and the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households.

Arthena Roper, a Jefferson County school board candidate, said she’s thrilled to see this conversation taking place.

The rally “really touches my heart, because in raising two young black males that are teenagers, we have to have a conversation about how some things aren’t fair,” Roper said. She recounted a story about her son being detained and falsely accused of having drugs in his car. After an hour-and-a-half search, the police came up empty and let him go.

“When we allow things to happen only to certain people, injustice just spreads,” Roper said. “A good beginning would be genuine seats at the table … If people say they want something different, if you genuinely want to hear someone’s voice on an issue, then invite them to the table.”

Polls in 2017 indicated that the majority of Americans had a negative view of the BLM movement but Roper feels that that could be due to a misunderstanding of the terminology.

“When someone says ‘black lives matter,’ then they say ‘blue lives matter,’ then ‘all lives matter’-that’s true,” Roper said. “But look at it a different way. If I say, ‘today we are focusing on breast cancer-this march is for breast cancer, this fundraiser is for breast cancer, all the money we raise is for that focus,’ that doesn’t mean that all cancer is not bad. It’s just that right now, we’re focusing on this one. So when someone says ‘black lives matter,’ give it that time and space.”

Brolle plans to continue holding the rally each year.

“Some people try to demonize this movement and compare it to the KKK, calling it a terrorist movement,” Brolle said. “I disagree. I believe that the organization is attempting to educate us about continued systemic racism toward black people and people of color.”