Black and Blue panel brings discussions of racial tension with police front and center

Prosecutor Wesley Bell, seated next to probation officer Demetrius Hatley, responds to comments by audience member Telisha Reinhardt.

The Black and Blue panel held on Wednesday, Feb. 19, provided an engaging and thought-provoking discussion on police relations with the African-American community.

The focus of the panel was how the black community interacts with police officers and how that relationship could be improved. The panel was hosted by the Department of Political Science in the Center for Student Diversity & Inclusion.

The discussion began with moderator Timothy Lewis, a political science professor, asking if any of the panelists feel fear during interactions with police officers. The general consensus was that while the panelists did not always feel fearful of police interactions, they described themselves as “tense” or “alert.”

“I’ve never actually had an interaction [with police], so this tenseness that I have stems from stories of other black individuals having interactions, and I didn’t grow up in the United States,” senior political science student Hayley Smith said. “I grew up in the Bahamas, so I have more of an Afro-Caribbean sense of justice ... and in the Bahamas most police are black … So my whole thing of seeing racial interactions with police officers just surprises me in some aspects, and so I think that’s where a lot of my fear stems from.”

After answering a series of prepared questions, the panel allowed about thirty minutes of questions from the audience. Three audience members chose to ask questions. The first question was by Telisha Reinhardt from the Office of the Registrar, who challenged the idea that simply changing laws would fix the problems faced by African Americans. St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell, one of the panelists, responded to Reinhardt’s comments. 

“Right or wrong, good or bad, this system isn’t going away,” Bell said. “We can work on improving the system we have.”

A question was also asked by senior sociology major Romeo Spells, of Belleville, Illinois, regarding people’s ability to educate themselves on how to interact with the police. 

“Several of you also talked about the need for educating oneself [on interacting with police],” Spells said. “On this I’m a bit more contentious just because educating oneself implies that at a certain level you’re going to have the ability to do that … your disposition on your ability to educate yourself is largely based on how you were raised.”

Panelist Joslyn Sandifer, a local attorney, responded to Spells’ comments.

“I suggest you’ve gotta educate yourselves because you’re here, and apparently you can read, again, because you’re here … my comments with regards to educating yourself really are to the people who I believe have the access and ability to do so, with a grain of understanding that everyone is not in the perfect position to do so,” attorney Joslyn Sandifer said. “That’s why I do what I do, clients come in and they’re crying … I take the time to educate them in that moment.”

Lewis said the event had more attendees than anticipated, partially because of sociology and political science classes that were asked to attend the panel by their professors. 

“We were expecting around forty people and we got around eighty,” Lewis said.  

Following the panel, Lewis said what he would change if the panel were to be held again.

“I would have it in a bigger space, definitely, and I would actually invite the police department which actually something I didn’t do this year, but I would send out official invites to police departments to have people from the department to come and hear what people, from all professional institutions and citizens, what they are saying that needs to be addressed.”

For more information about the event, students can contact Timothy Lewis at timlewi@siue.edu. 

(1) comment

Larry Martinelli

If you behave the police aren't a problem

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