A candlelight vigil was held at Plaza Verde on Angelo State University campus Sunday evening where ASU students gathered with staff, faculty and members of the ASU Police Department.
The student chapter of the NAACP and other multicultural groups on campus hosted the event that was meant to open discussion on racial divides within communities and the relationship between law enforcement and minorities.
NAACP student president Celeste Rowe said the vigil was about coming out to “try to help us make a difference,” despite how minorities can be portrayed in the media as well as on social media.
The gathering brought about a discussion on minorities and how they perceive law enforcement and how law enforcement perceives anyone at any given time during traffic stops and other situations.
ASUPD Chief James Adams spoke to a crowd of approximately 100 people about police relations with the communities in which they serve. Additionally, he advised the crowd how to conduct themselves when approached by law enforcement.
“A lot has changed in 30 years.” Adams said, referring to his own years in law enforcement. “But there’s still a lot to be done and further change that can happen. This is a complex issue. I know this may sound kind of trivial, but growing up my parents taught me one thing, and that is to be respectful and treat others the way you want to be treated.”
Adams went on to say it starts with things like Sunday night’s gathering and discussion, because until we sit down and talk and listen to each other we will never see the kind of change that everyone wants to see.
“Officers are taught from day one that hands kill you,” Adams said. “Officers are looking at hands to make sure they are safe.”
Pull over safely, turn the engine off, place your hands on the steering wheel, be courteous, follow the directions that you are given, Adams said.
“What an officer thinks is a routine traffic stop could be something totally different,” Adams said. “There’s no way I can try to justify some of the things we’ve seen. I can’t. But I do have control about the way our department interacts with people.”
Adams said that in his 14 years at ASU, not a single complaint regarding racial profiling has been filed against the school’s PD. However, he did advise attendees to report any situation where they feel an officer is misbehaving.
“It begins with not being confrontational with the officer at the scene” Adams said.
The floor was then open to students who had questions for Adams about a myriad of things from racial profiling, to police brutality and whether officers regularly undergo mental health exams.
Some students expressed their fears of encounters with law enforcement and asked Adams how to overcome that.
The officer-involved shootings of a black man in Louisiana and a black man in Minnesota last week as well as the shootings of Dallas Police and DART officers Thursday night may have served as a catalyst to discussions such as the one held at ASU Sunday, Adams said.
After a rap performance entitled “All Lives Matter,” by ASU student and rapper Hoszel West III, Rowe began wrapping up the discussion saying that the NAACP is not only about blacks, reminding the crowd that the group was formed primarily by whites.
“NAACP was started as a response to lynchings that were being done in Springfield, Illinois.” Rowe said. “We’ve been hearing a lot of things about Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter and we’ve been hearing a lot of things about white privilege. Recognizing your privilege is the first step to becoming an ally, but, although we say Black Lives Matter, the two is implied. We are not saying that we are the only people who matter, we are not saying that we are the most important ones, but we are saying that we matter too. It is not a black vs white, it is a black vs the system that treats us differently. It is up to all of us, to change the system so that everybody is treated equally.”
In the end the gathering was a healthy discussion between ASU students and law enforcement, reminding people about the need for the community to come together and work towards constructive and positive change, rather than the protest some had expected it to be.
San Angelo NOW’s Maria Hagland contributed to this report.