The third and final (for now) episode of the public affairs program IN Focus that I have been guest-hosting in July aired this evening on WCTV. Like my earlier conversations with Betsy Schlabach, Archer Bunner and Bill Engle, it again touches on some of the challenges of confronting and addressing racism in our communities.
First I talk with Chief Mike Britt of the Richmond Police Department about how they are responding to national and local concerns about racial bias in policing. Then, I speak with Brylynn Quisenberry about what it was like to organize a local event demonstrating against racist police violence and affirming that Black Lives Matter.
Two very different perspectives, and both were intense conversations to have in their own regard. I appreciate the time each guest took with me. I’m sure I left out important questions and could have asked better versions of the ones I did. But most of all I hope these exchanges prompt further conversation and action toward justice for everyone who lives here. We have a lot of work to do.
I welcome your feedback. You can watch the video below, on WCTV’s YouTube channel, on Facebook or as the episode is replayed on WGTV Channel 11. The audio of the show is also available via the Richmond Matters podcast feed, which you can find in your favorite podcast listening app.
The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions.
Chris Hardie: Hi and welcome to this week’s episode of In Focus on Whitewater Community Television WGTV Channel 11. I’m Chris Hardie, sitting in for Eric Marsh, as your host. This is the third episode in a series of conversations that we’ve been having about what it means for our community to work on and really make progress on the serious and historic challenges of racism, and racial discrimination in policing. In particular, we’re exploring what it means for white people here to join in an attempt to understand our role in systems of racism and what actions we can take to be a part of the solution.
Racism and related concepts, like white privilege, are not easy topics for white people to explore. It’s uncomfortable, it’s awkward, it’s full of potential for misunderstanding, defensiveness, hurt feelings, or just feeling overwhelmed. But it is clear that if we care about justice, if we care about making sure that everyone in our community can rise together, we have to do this work, and we have to do it urgently. We have to look inside ourselves and be willing to see what’s there, we have to have these conversations out loud with each other, and we have to show that we are listening that we are understanding and that we are willing to take action.
My two guests this hour are coming from very different places in this conversation. A bit later I’ll be talking with Brylynn Quisenberry, a local high school student who recently organized a march around pursuing racial justice. First I’m talking with the Chief of Police of the Richmond Police Department, Mike Britt. Chief Britt, thank you so much for taking the time to join me today, I really appreciate it.
Mike Britt: You’re welcome, it’s my pleasure.
Chris: You became Chief just back in April, right in the middle of a pandemic, and a lot of other things going on but you’ve you’ve been a part of the force in the department for some time, can you just tell us briefly about your history with the Richmond Police Department?
Mike: Well, I’ve been a full-time Richmond officer going on 25 years. Prior to that I was a dispatcher and a reserve officer so I’ve got about a 35 year history with the Department. And it was in January of 2016 when Chief Branum was named as the new Chief of police by Mayor Snow, he appointed me as a Deputy Chief. I’ve been in the administrative offices since 2016.
Chris: Okay great. And we’ve been talking on this show about sort of the renewed national attention to problems of systemic racism, incidents of police violence and I wanted to ask what kinds of things the Richmond Police Department has done or has thought about in response to that and in that context?
Mike: Well it’s it’s been a very difficult time and I want to start this topic off by saying that those of you who hate the police based on what you saw in recent news articles of officers from Minneapolis and other places in this world, as a profession, as a representative of this profession I apologize for that because I don’t think what you or anybody else saw was true modern police work. What you saw or criminal acts and it’s very unfortunate that the acts of a few officers can cause so many problems to a nationwide organization. And that is what we’ve seen in the news is not what Richmond Police Department or I or most other agencies stand for. This is very unfortunate.
Chris: Thank you for that. Are there any specific changes that you, as a department, have made in training procedures or reporting policies, rules of engagement, and I know that it’s a conversation and we’ve heard about different departments looking at how they handle certain kinds of engagements as a result, is that something that has come to the Richmond Police Department as well?
Mike: Yes we’ve began the discussion. We have policies and procedures in place, and one of our long-term goals, we haven’t been able to really get completed, is a complete update of our policies and procedures. So some of them are old, however they do cover the key, such as use of force, the use of force continuum and the case law that exists regarding use of force. Just the policies need updated just a bit so I’ve been spending a lot of time going over our existing policies and our training as well. Currently Major Bales and I, my Deputy Chief, been in contact with a company that has offered us an opportunity to rewrite our policy manual and bring it up to today’s standards as far as legally defensible policies. So that’s one of the things that we’re looking at. In general. I looked over our entire operation and, you’ll notice, and hopefully the public can too, the Richmond Police Department is not been involved in any unfortunate incidents, thank God, and that’s just because I have good people. The men and women of the Richmond Police Department are great officers and there’s inherent training now when police officer comes on new in the profession. They’ve integrated IS based policing training as well as the escalation techniques and the mental, emotional training that’s all part of the Academy now, and it’s also a part of our annual re-certification training which we are going through right now.
Every officer on this department, and pretty much the state of Indiana, has mandatory training that they have to go through every year and we contracted with a web-based company where the officers are working their way through several hours of video along with pre and post-test and it covers most of those key areas, so we are, I think we’re doing a pretty good job keeping up on that, but we could always do better. And that’s what I’m looking at, what more can I do? And I apologize if we haven’t done that so quickly, I think it’s important think this through. I don’t like knee-jerk reactions and we don’t currently have any issues that have come to the forefront, so we’re thinking forward on this and we can take the right steps, but basically we’ve been very fortunate, I’ve got a, like I say, a great group of officers that are young and, I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but since 2016, we counted the other day, we’ve hired 36 policemen, which makes a very young department.
Mike: One of the issues that I had that coming in, of course I’m an old guy, older generation, they go millennials, yeah that’s gonna be a problem but it really is not. And what I’m learning along the way it’s that one of the first things that we saw when we started putting younger policemen on the street is the complaints against officers for rudeness and that type of thing is really falling away we don’t get as many complaints of that nature. And I’m finding that these newer officers are, I guess the newer generation, are a lot more tolerant of different social status and I couldn’t be prouder. They’re a lot more accepting of other cultures and I’m not casting the shadow on my generation but when you look around us some of the major incidents in the country you’ll notice that a lot of these guys are our older officers that may be from a different generation of policing.
Chris: I do want ask, at a recent demonstration here back in June you know, people sharing some stories of being treated, they felt poorly in certain circumstances because they felt the color of their skin, being treated poorly by local law enforcement and it’s hard to know, if we weren’t there, it’s hard to understand exactly what happened. But I do wonder how you track or if you track or investigate any claims of racial discrimination or bias in local policing, is that a part of some of the systems that you talked about?
Mike: Yes, as long as I can remember we’ve always tracked complaints against officers. Additionally, one of the most important things that we do, I don’t think it’s mandatory in the state of Indiana yet, but we’ve been doing it for several years but any time officer has to use force of any type with a citizen, such as displaying a weapon or going hands-on with somebody, in addition to the report that the officer writes, the standard criminal report, it’s accompanied by a use of force report, which is a completely separate document that breaks down exactly what force was used and why. So those are compiled by a deputy chief and we keep a close eye on that. So far we’ve done pretty well by looking… as far as a complaint against an officer’s behavior whatever, we have complaint system in place that’s been there for years and you can come the Richmond Police Department, pick up a complaint form and fill it out and then it goes and comes back to the administration and it’s most likely where it would be assigned to someone to investigate.
Chris: And just thinking about that a little bit, people talk about the power dynamic of an everyday resident like me walking into the police station and saying to someone who’s carrying a firearm who has the ability, in theory, to put me in jail, to say that I have a complaint and that could be tough for anyone. I think there’s been some recognition that racism that goes beyond just like an individual act where you can say like, yes this was clearly racism or clearly wasn’t, but we’re talking about ideas and dynamics that are spread throughout society and I think some people say like, oh a police force couldn’t actually be a part of the solution because of the way that they’re set up or because of that power dynamic, so as a department, how do you make sure that you’re open to listening to those concerns, some of which might be really hard to hear if they’re critiques of the department or of your officers and finding ways to improve how you serve the community based on that feedback that you get?
Mike: Well, we’ve been getting a lot of feedback, we’ve had a number of meetings with different groups and there has been some input on that and just as I appreciate getting a phone call or an email that my officers did a good job I also want to know about when a person feels they did not do a good job. The most difficult thing is to sort out whether that officers behavior was completely unacceptable or called for, for the other particular incident that they’re involved in. Sometimes, like it or not, the policeman has to become forceful such as one of the biggest complaints that I get my policemen are on the scene of something people walking up and are not involved we shoo them away. You’ve got to stay away from this particular incident till we hit the bottom of what’s going on and people seem to take offense to that and I apologize but that’s not something that we will ever do is allow somebody not involved party to step into one of our encounters in the public.
Chris: Okay. And it seems like what I think you’re saying, I just want to check on this you know and some of the stories we’ve heard elsewhere, after an incident happened where it seems like there was a racial bias at work in an incident, sometimes it’s come out later that okay there were there was a pattern with an officer who then ended up having an incident that the committed violence against a black person or against a person of color and the question always comes out then like why didn’t that pattern get looked at earlier. So do you feel like you’re in a good place as a department if a pattern did emerge with an officer’s behavior, you feel like you’re in a good place to see that, to track it, to investigate it, do something about it, is that fair?
Mike: Yes that’s fair we are in a good place for that. Nobody gets any special favors because there are policemen, there’s the code of conduct that I expect from my officers and it’s also spelled out in the department policy and we also have a couple things in place such as serious incidents where a law has been broken, presumably by a police officer, we most generally don’t investigate that ourselves, we’ll call our friends at the Indiana State Police’s unbiased, unconnected agency, and have them look at it, we’ve used them this year so far on an incident he had here at the police headquarters and it’s very nice to be in a position where I can call a professional agency, such as that, and have them do an open investigation on it. Look, as far as they use the force reports and all that, if we have an officer showing substandard behavior, it jumps out because we don’t get complaints every day here police department administration in a week. We read all complaints against officers and we don’t get them that often so repeat complaints really stand out, so we’re able to be on top of that rather quickly.
Chris: Okay. There have been these calls to, defund the police is one phrase we’ve heard a lot, some people are talking about the version of substantially changing how policing operates and I think what those calls are asking us to do is to try to confront some of the systems that might lead to discrimination and violence against black people especially as they play out in law enforcement situations. And I wonder what those calls mean to you, when you hear them, and what do you think those kinds of changes would mean for our area for policing in our area.
Mike: Well defunding the police, I guess you would expect me to say, and I will tell you that is not a good idea. We have enough trouble staying within our means that our current budget. However, there are things that this department does that a lot of people are not aware of and it takes up a considerable amount of our resources, and that being I guess the number one thing would be mentally emotional situations that the police are called to and just some quick reference since 2014, proximately 10% of our calls were mentally emotional-based and so far up to this year is about 14%. So it continues to grow, the demand for that type of services is definitely on the increase, and I think a lot of these situations could be handled by someone other than the police, I guess better outfitted or trained to handle these. We end up handling these just because we’re the default, the fall back and between the fire department and my officers, we handle a lot of situations that should probably be handled by somebody in the mental health field professional. But those resources aren’t readily available in our community, we have some great resources but they’re just not available in the middle the night, and so that leaves very few options for us.
But the scary part about that as well as some of these incidents involve sometimes violence and that’s a little bit scary as well having a non-sworn, non-armed person responding to these things but that’s an area of growth that our departments dealing with, it’s a very difficult to keep on top of and when I hear somebody say defund the police, I see other agencies around the nation that are effectively being defunded, but the pattern that I’m seeing is that they are creating non-emergency staff to handle the non-violent situations. Not a bad idea. I do believe that change is needed in this profession, policing has to keep up with modern times just as any profession does in it and it requires a change of thought process for us. But as I said, we’re pretty much good at making changes and that a lot of it has to do the younger officers. But as far as defunding the police, it’s not particularly a good idea but I am fully aware that there are change to be made that need to be made in this profession and the mental illness segment I just spoke about is probably larger facets that that needs addressed in our profession.
Chris: Yeah, I was reading an example of another city, I’m forgetting which city right now, but I don’t know if it was a percentage of the police budget, but they took some funding and they set up basically a first responder service for mental health situations I believe as people who were trained in working with mental health but also then got some training that overlapped a bit with what a police officer might receive for how to de-escalate a situation and you know they had a van or something like that that was available you know 24/7 staffed and tried to get to situations where there was a mental health issue. Is that the kind of thing that you could imagine being helpful in our community, I know I’m just kind of pulling that out of thin air as an option and we’d have to figure out where the staffing and where the funding came from, but do you think your department would be able to see that transition and happen be glad for it and that would help in some kinds of situations where right now as first responders in a mental health situation things don’t always go the way you would want them to?
Mike: That’s correct. Yeah, I would be in support of such a program. But as you mentioned already, it’s about the resources the funding for these types of things but it’s gotten to be a large enough problem that it needs more attention from the community as well as the city government but that is a direction I can see modern policing moving. It’s something that’s really needed.
Chris: Do you have a sense of what percentage of your officers live in Richmond are very close to Richmond, just as a population?
Mike: I’ve never really calculated but the majority live in Richmond were close by, let’s say two miles a lot of them anyways, as far as the exact number at live outside the city I know I don’t have an answer.
Chris: I guess why I asked, some cities have talked about part of the problem is when you are bringing officers in from well outside of the neighborhoods that they are then in and policing and serving that that can create a clash, and I wonder if that’s something that could work to our benefit as a smaller city, a smaller community, where a lot of officers are part of the communities that they are then serving when on duty, part of the neighborhood’s. It seems like there’s an opportunity there for more engagement and I know some officers are very happy to if they’re taking the patrol car home and parking in the driveway, they’re kind of seen is a part of that that neighborhoods community safety program. Are there other opportunities on your mind for better engagement between the police department and the neighborhoods and the city so that the trust and the sort of understanding of what policing looks like in our community could be improved over time?
Mike: Yes sir. There’s several opportunities that we intend to take advantage of. Of course, becoming Chief of Police in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic and all the other problems that we’ve had, my plan when things get back to what we call the new normal is that the district officers will be attending the neighborhood meetings. We’re moving towards attempting to having the officers work the same districts so they can have a familiarity with the public in that particular area of town, and it’s my intention that, as long as the officers are available, they’re gonna be a regular fixture in neighborhood functions and especially the community watch, crime watch meetings, that type thing. But as you might imagine, it’s been a little difficult scheduling these types of things and keeping up the full manpower, that’s that’s very difficult to do, just imagine with all the negative press you’ve seen about law enforcement, how hard is recruiting officers right now, which is an ongoing… they made a news release that we’ve finally made it to full manpower, this was several months ago, and we did, were budgeted for 76 more officers and we achieved that, but it lasted for two weeks, before somebody else retired. And now I think right now we’re down four full-time positions, so recruiting and keeping the street staffed is a factor in how much time an officer would have to go to these meetings.
But I guess in a best-case scenario the officer is going to have enough manpower so it won’t really interfere with anything if officer wants to take an hour to go to community meeting. But yeah, I definitely see more community engagement from our department, it just simply a time right now where it’s very difficult to pull that off. One of the other things that we intend on ramping up is social media presence. We’ve been involved with social media but quite honestly in my opinion I think we’ve done a good enough job with it. So that’s another, one thing that as I mentioned before when we find out what the new normal is, that’s going to be a part of it.
Chris: In a time where people are really thinking about the role of police and police departments in communities, I wonder either for yourself, if you want to speak just for yourself, or for other people who are a part of the department, why do you think most people get into policing, what is the drive what’s the reason that attracts people to it and what do they hope to get out of it or what do they hope to do in that role for the most part?
Mike: Well it sounds somewhat corny but t’s actually true, as I mentioned previously, we’re hired a lot of young officers, these officers are millennials maybe a Generation X or two, but these officers sincerely want to help their community. I mean it’s very very genuine deeply based in them. You certainly don’t get in law enforcement work for the money, that’s for sure. So the success that we had in recruiting, brought us to a generation that do genuinely want to help, and they’d like to be a part of the solution to some problems that our city faces, and that’s a very important factor. And as I mentioned, recruiting is very difficult right now so I’ll throw in a plug as well. Probably tomorrow we’re opening up another hiring process for a officer to fill these vacancies. We’ve got three applicants in the pipeline to hire right now and I’ve got probably two or three more projected openings coming up so I’d definitely love to see people have an interest of helping their community.
There’s a lot of problems around here, or perceived problems and my challenge is come and help us fix that. Take an active role, there’s no bones, no mistakes, our Police Department doesn’t reflect our community or our society accurately. We need a lot more minority applicants and everybody that we hire anymore is is basically white and I’m not sure we’ve really wrestled with how to increase minority recruitment, but I’m open for ideas if somebody has some good idea so yeah I think we’re going to start reaching out and doing some radio ads here very shortly with the inception of this new hiring process.
Chris: And I’m not at all an expert on hiring for police departments, my sense is that often that the traditional approach has been kind of waiting for the pipeline to be more diverse and my best understanding is that the kind of outreach you’re talking about doing more of where there’s there’s actual connection happening in the community in neighborhoods with people of color and understanding you know what some of their concerns might be that would also be an effective way to increase that understanding. Whether or not people end up applying to be a part of the force, would remain to be seen. I guess in a little bit of time we have left, again if I were a person of color and I were feeling like in this community I wasn’t always safe, if I were pulled over without explanation and I felt like it was because of the color of my skin or if I felt like you know undue attention was on me in a law enforcement situation and I wanted to talk to someone about that or I wanted to try to do something about that out of concern for what’s happening nationwide, but also with the local police department, what do you see is my next step, where do I go, who do I talk to. If it’s not just about filing a complaint form but actually keeping that conversation going, hat’s my next step?
Mike: Your next step should be, you actually have several, that you could take, the most common one is calling into the police department asking to speak with that officer’s supervisor. We run three shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week and the patrol division, each patrol division for 1st, 2nd, 3rd shift are split into three groups. One’s led by a sergeant, one’s led by lieutenant, one’s led by a shift captain. So a call to the police department to find out a particular officer supervisor should be relatively simple to do, and you can speak with them. If you don’t get the desired results from them, then you always have the administrative officer, myself, Major Bales and Major Tonuc are available discuss these situations. But don’t be scared of coming into the police department to complain or question an officer’s conduct, I mean that’s what we’re here for. As I mentioned before, I’m not going to deny maybe some change needs to take place, I can be biased and say that we really don’t have those types of problems but I’m not naïve, I know that there are segments, areas of our profession we can improve on and implicit bias is one of those.
Chris: Well Chief Britt, thank you again for your time and your willingness to talk with me about some challenging problems that I know are on people’s minds.
Mike: You’re quite welcome, I appreciate the opportunity. I hope I haven’t rambled too much here but we’re very passionate about that, and like I said, it’s a very difficult time to police our community but I think we’re doing a good job, we’re going to be better from here, we’re going to go upward from where we’re at now. Like I say, we just have to find that new normal.
Chris: Thank you.
Mike: Thank you.
Chris: Welcome back and you’re watching Whitewater Community Television WGTV Channel 11. I’m Chris Hardie, and I’m talking now with Brylynn Quisenberry, who’s a student at Richmond High School and who’s been doing some hard work, I think, to help our community make progress on issues of racism and police violence. So Brylynn, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, appreciate having you here.
Brylynn Quisenberry: Thank you for having me.
Chris: So you organized a march and a demonstration on June 14th that, I think, brought a lot of attention to problems of systemic racism and police violence against black people. I think you’ve said elsewhere that you wanted to do something after the murder of George Floyd and the protests that were happening in response. I wonder if you could share a little bit more about how you decided to create that event and what it was like for you to put it together?
Brylynn: So it kind of happened overnight. So the George Floyd, his death had happened, and then the protests immediately started, so I learned about George Floyd and all the protests in just a day. So I was on social media and I seen it and I was just talking to someone and I texted and I said, “I feel like Richmond might need one of these protests.” So I was like, I think I’m just going do it. I said, “I don’t know how good it’s gonna be, I don’t know how many people are going to be here, but I’m just going to wing it.” So the first thing I did was make a poster. I sent it to my photographer, Sandy Strange, she did some pretty good pictures. I said to her and I was like, “Hey, can you take some pictures here so it can be on other platforms?” And she was like yeah and it just got bigger from there. So many waters being donated, I have never seen that much water ever. I paid for just about nothing, I really did. The horn that I used to talk I borrowed, people passed out snacks, I didn’t even ask for that. It just all happened from the community.
Chris: Was there a moment when you knew that had it had gone from kind of a personal project to something that was really gaining lots of traction and interest, how did you know that it was going to be kind of as big as it was?
Brylynn: So I actually had started a Facebook group okay so I invited people and then I had people put if they were going or not going and there are so many people interested. I was like 400 interested doesn’t sound like 20 anymore. So there were even times when I thought I wanted it back out of it because it’s so scary, so dangerous, but I’m so glad did not.
Chris: I mean marches and protests are not a typical thing in Richmond right, and so I can imagine that there were moments where it was challenging to make it happen maybe where people were questioning you about it, yeah what kinds of bumps did you hit along the way and what kept you going?
Brylynn: Well at first I had gotten like a few weeks in, maybe two, and it didn’t seem like there were that many people that were going to show up and at this point I was like I really want a lot of people and I would like cry and really think we need this, I really think people need to see this because there’s so much going on. I actually worked at a place and I quit actually from all of this. So during all this, it was racist comments all the time and hateful, so I had to leave, I literally lost my job because of this.
Chris: People were coming to your place of work to comment on what you were trying to do or just was beyond that?
Brylynn: It was my actual place of work, people that I have worked with that had comments.
Chris: I’m really sorry.
Brylynn: It’s okay. I kind of put my foot down, another girl had put her foot down too and we both quit and actually one of the places that passed out water for us, the Cordial Cork, they were super sweet, they passed out water, I didn’t even know they were, I got an interview there.
Chris: That’s great I’m glad there were bits of silver lining and I mean it sounds really hard. I mean, what kinds of stories did you hear from people about what they’ve experienced when it comes to racism and difficult interactions with the police, and I know there was some storytelling at the event and I’m imagining you heard others along the way, what kinds of things did you hear about?
Brylynn: My own grandpa has told me about ladies when he was younger because he’s this big bald black man. Ladies seemed scared about him, took their purses away and the police followed him, make sure that he’s not doing anything. The guy at my protest saying that he actually got tackled by police when he had just turned 18 because they said that he was starting trouble, He’s a big dude. I just heard so much and not even just in the town like everywhere, it’s everywhere, and it’s too much it’s way too much.
Chris: And some of the refrains during the march were just talking about I mean of course, Black Lives Matter, but also “enough” about police violence and about the way that systems of law enforcement, sometimes without even recognizing it, have racism or racial bias built in. Did you feel like that day unfolded in the way that you wanted it to when the day was actually there? How did it line up with what you were expecting and hoping for?
Brylynn: Like I said, I kind of just winged it so I wasn’t really planning on what was going to happen, I knew they were gonna be people, I knew that I was going to talk. But as soon as I got there, and as soon as people started to come, I got nervous. I was like, I have to talk in front of these people and I have to tell them what I feel because I actually do feel this way, I feel like I need to be heard it was really hard and I had so many people, lovely people there, that were calming me down that helped me talk that helped me, random people helping me. Just holding signs, I passed out signs, and it all went smoothly. I felt really empowered just doing it.
Chris: I was able to be a part of it with my family and it was really striking to me that there was a really great spirit about the crowd and about sort of the message that was being shared. It was also striking that the Richmond, the police department was there too and they were sometimes blocking traffic accompanying the marchers on the route, sometimes even leading the way with their vehicles, and a few times it seemed like waving and indicating their support, so I how were your interactions with the police department in planning the march and on that day, what did you notice about your interactions there?
Brylynn: So actually, the first officer that I talked to was Officer Benedict, I’m pretty sure. He was really sweet, I even have a picture with him. He brought me into the police station by myself just then, he talked to me about the route, he told me he had some concerns some places and just to tell people, hey you need to do this here and make sure you try to walk on the sidewalks and not just other streets. And that was really nice, he said that he’d just stay out of the way and just let me do my thing while he just blocks traffic just so no one would hit us.
Chris: Yeah, I spoke with Chief Britt earlier and we were talking about the problem of racism in police violence, racism in policing that we’ve been hearing so much about for a long time, but especially in a renewed way recently, and he felt like the Richmond Police Department is doing well in not having a problem with racist police action like we’ve seen elsewhere. And when I asked him specifically about how a person of color, if they had a concern and wanted to voice that about racial discrimination in a police department, his recommendation was to call the police department itself to talk about it and he felt like there would not be retaliation or any reason to be scared of doing that. I want to ask you do you think that suggestion works? What do you make of that in the context of the stories you’ve heard and the work that you’ve been doing?
Brylynn: The only reason these protests are happening is because these aren’t being taken care of properly. So when he’s saying to go ahead and just call and we’ll talk about it and blah, blah, blah, I just don’t think it’s civil anymore. That’s why these protests are happening, we are making change happen forcefully, I’m not going to sit down and talk to somebody be like, hey I think this is an issue, oh yeah I’ll get back with you maybe a year or two and see if that works. So I don’t think anybody’s going to do that at all. I think there’s a lot of people that are already completely against the police, doesn’t matter where they are, doesn’t matter who they are, so they’re not going to talk about the problems with them personally or on the phone. I feel like it’s much deeper than just to sit down and have a talk.
Chris: And so this is a question that goes well beyond Richmond but if as you say we don’t have time anymore for the kind of conversation approach or the internal investigation approach, what do you think it looks like for a city like ours to make real progress and to see real change when it comes to policing, when it comes to addressing racism in our city? Do you have a sense of that, and again I realize it’s asking you to solve that in a conversation on TV is a difficult thing but yeah, what kinds of things would you hope for?
Brylynn: I just like it to be seen more. You don’t go to the State Fair and see Black Lives Matter booth and then handing out things and black owned businesses you don’t see at all. And like I said, we’ve been trying to even just get an event somewhere sometime in the year because I’ve even spoken to the Mayor with a huge group of people and we’ve asked to do some things in the State Fair and he said that we should leave the State Fair alone, so we have leave the State Fair alone, we’re going to have to do something else, make it our own, make it where people can see it, educate people, that’s all we can do, because sitting down and talking to people, people are going to… you don’t have to listen. But if it’s right there you can see it no matter.
Chris: Yeah, and it does seem like there’s this real tension between, oops I lost video there, there we are.
Chris: That’s all right. There’s this real tension between what we’re coming to understand is like, it’s a generation’s long process of people doing work on themselves of people doing work in their community and then also the need to see real progress right, like as you say, in many cases the time for conversation has kind of come and gone and I think you and I were talking a little bit before about there’s this real danger of people saying, “Okay a march has happened so great we’ve had that success we can check that box.”
I think for white people, especially if we don’t work at it, and even if we do, we’re always in danger of limiting our thinking and our awareness of systemic racism just to the times when marches are happening or police violence is in the news or when people of color are really asking us to pay attention, and so I mean clearly we need to be doing that work of anti racism all the time every day, we can’t fall back to this privileged position of just hoping things will figure themselves out and I wonder what you’ve seen, if anything, that gives you some hope about the action that’s happening in our community around these topics, where do you think the greatest promise is for progress there, knowing that it’s not always going to be this like happy-go-lucky, tying a bow around it and we’re done kind of thing, but where can we make the most progress right now? Do you have a sense of that?
Brylynn: We’ve actually been talking about it there’s so many areas, the places people work, the schooling, just anything like that. I think for me, since I am in school right now I’m a sophomore now, I can see it in schools, I can see it when teachers discriminate, there’s not many teachers I do love my teachers, but I’ve seen teachers that do discriminate and you just have to keep an eye out or you see kids that have been taught at home and their parents bring it there or they’re hateful there, and I just don’t think it’s a place that should ever have anything like that.
Chris: I had a good conversation, in a previous show, with Archer Bunner, a teacher in the local school system, and Archer was talking about just the need for teachers to have some more training some more awareness about, both issues of bias and racism and discrimination, but also thinking about alternative ways of doing conflict resolution right because our culture is so geared toward, especially once you’re out in the world, once there’s a conflict, call the police and bring the police in. Chief Britt mentioned how shifting some first responder work to people trained with mental health services could be a way to de-escalate some kinds of conflict, remove the police from the situation.
And I really appreciate what you said about just awareness raising has a really key thing that can happen right now, again I think there’s a real danger of awareness kind of fading into the background. We’re coming up on an election season, we’re coming up on you know the fall, in theory school might be starting again. Have you talked to people, who you know, who are doing the hard work every day and maybe they are white people who have been allies in this situation. Are there resources that you point people to when they are looking for a way to spend time, an organization to contribute toward a place to volunteer, or is it really about starting in our homes, in our neighborhoods in the people we spend time with every day. And it’s kind of a rambling question so I apologize for that.
Brylynn: It’s okay. I think it starts in our homes and our neighborhoods where we really have to start because we teach each other all the time if you have a phone at your own house and you’re looking and on social media and your social media feed is racist, have a family that’s racist, and then you’re going be like, “Oh that’s okay,” so then it starts at home so I feel like just even putting a booth somewhere that’s like, hey I’m over here maybe you should get some information, it can help.
Chris: Do you feel like young people, either students that you know, but just young people generally in our community are they thinking about, are they talking about the problems of racism and police violence in our community, or is awareness-raising needed there as well?
Brylynn: No, for sure. I know that kids here for sure are, and there were kids in the last march, there were kids in my March. I have friends on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat talking about it, just even sharing a post is something, just people that aren’t being quiet. I don’t think it’s an issue because when you look at the protest, you see Gen Z, that’s who you see, you see us, you don’t really see a lot of older people getting out there and do that. For my march, I’ve seen a lot of older people and that was really nice, because you don’t really see that a lot.
Chris: If someone was feeling resistant to the idea of doing a march or doing a demonstration, again, that sense that like Richmond isn’t a place that’s always been friendly to direct action like that, what did you tell them? Have they said, “I don’t really know if that’s my thing doing a march,” how did you help set them at ease about that?
Brylynn: Well, I told a lot of people because a lot of people didn’t like the thought of a protest because they’re seeing social media and they’re seeing how protests are going violent and they’re seeing how people are being teargassed and shot and people are dying, people are getting really badly hurt, so I had a friend myself that was like, “I don’t know if I’m actually going to be allowed to,” when they want to but they’re minors. If the parent says no, the parent says no they can’t go. But I’ve had her me with posters, she packs some water, just simple things like that, that’s helpful. And just the people remember that the people that are working with it, they see that and they remember that. So you don’t automatically have to be marching, I know people that are disabled that cannot march. So just doing simple things, donating, posting, just helping out a little bit, it’s simple.
Chris: Also, I think the paper reported that you’ve been in some conversations with the local NAACP Chapter and talking about what kinds of programs or action might be possible there. Can you say any more about sort of what’s what’s happening there and how people might be able to get involved?
Brylynn: We’re actually we’re still talking about it, we did a huge Zoom, I don’t know when we’re doing another one. Pastor Chapelle, he’s kind of the one that I’ve been talking to the most, so we’ve kind of just picked out points around the Richmond where we think that we need to really focus on issues, like schools, neighborhoods, workplaces things like that, how people get their money, just all that other stuff. But other than that, we really haven’t talked about much, we’ve talked about a youth that we already have, I’m actually the president of that youth group, so for this youth group it’s just young people that’s it. Just some high schoolers that’s it, and maybe some adults I just look over us I’m sure we’re good and that’s it, because that’s what we need we’re not doing the same things every single time. Gen Z hasn’t been nice about it you tell someone something and they’re like, “Well I’m sorry that you feel that way,” and all this other stuff, Gen Z’s kind of like, “I don’t care, here’s your facts and you can take it or leave it,” and that’s kind of what we’re doing. We want it to be different than what our elders are doing.
Chris: Have you had support and encouragement from grown ups, elders, adults in your life that have helped make some of this possible or do you feel like you’ve had to do some uphill battles to make things happen. what’s that been like for you?
Brylynn: My mom actually knows somebody in the Roadrunners, so the Roadrunners actually contacted me personally and they just asked me if I needed protection for my march. My mom and my grandma, every single time I’ve been busy and not around, they’re the ones that collect the water and load the water and drive me and do this and that, so that’s really helpful they’ve always been there. They get water for me, they get the posters for me. But other than that, everyone just kind of lean back and let me do what I need to do, which was really nice so I don’t have someone hovering over me to do this, do that, because I feel like if it’s my voice then somebody will see it more.
Chris: Yeah, if someone out there, and especially I mean a person of color, but even a white person or anyone else, if they’re seeing racism, if they’re seeing discrimination in action, if they’re not sure how to use their voice to do something about it, I mean you’ve had this experience now of using your voice going, through what at times sounds like are pretty scary process and a difficult process, what advice would you give to someone who’s not sure whether it’s worth it to put themselves out there and speak up?
Brylynn: It’s 100% worth it, every voice matters. We say silence is violence because when there’s silence there’s nothing that you are doing to help. When you are just quiet you are not helping, you are just adding to a problem that can for sure be solved if you just open your mouth and say, “Hey that’s not right.” That’s it.
Chris: And it feels like there’s some growing awareness in recent months that there is a distinction between just saying I’m not racist and actually doing anti-racist work and that as you were saying earlier, to do nothing, to stand by, and sort of let things go as they are, in a lot of ways is perpetuating and being a part of the problem, and that we’re long past the point where it’s important to do active work and I think there are probably people in our community who would look at a march or a demonstration and say that’s not making any progress but I really appreciate as you said that just even raising the issue keeping it in front of people, keeping the conversations going, feels like something we’ve been bad at, and that we can do better and better at of every day. How else do you think of yourself as keeping the conversations going and being a part of that now?
Brylynn: I’m on social media a lot, every single time I see an article, I sign petitions, I do all that stuff on social media, super easy stuff that anybody can do. You scroll through it, you look at it you see if it’s correct do you think Google, Google is real, you can see if the information is correct, share it. I’ve even been sharing things like black lives still matter that’s it.
Chris: Well Brylynn, I want to thank you for all the work that you’ve done the passion that you’ve put into this community, even when it’s been challenging for your personal life and employment and everything else, and continuing on with that. And I really do hope that as a community, we can honor that work by rising to the challenge that you and others have put out there to really take meaningful action so thank you and thanks again for your time today.
Brylynn: Thank you.
Chris: This has been another edition of In Focus on Whitewater Community Television. I’m your host Chris Hardie, thanks for watching.