POINT PLEASANT — Following two adults being charged with violating the civil rights of a local teen, including the accusations of threatening physical violence and calling the teen a racial slur, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia is hosting a free workshop.
Set for 6-8 p.m., today (Tuesday) at The Meeting House, the workshop will focus on how to safely and effectively confront bigotry and systemic racism, according to a spokesperson for the ACLU.
Joseph Cohen, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia, said his organization has seen a rise in what he called acts of hate.
“We’ve seen, both anecdotal, and by numbers, nationally and in West Virginia, a pretty marked rise in acts of bigotry in the last 18 months or so,” he said.
Cohen explained these workshops are an “outreach activity” which the ACLU of West Virginia has conducted in 43 of 55 counties since November of last year. Cohen said following the recent accusations of the alleged incident in Point Pleasant, it made sense to host the workshop in Mason County, though he stressed the workshop isn’t about that specific event.
Discussions will include: What can an individual do to intervene? What can a society do to protect targeted populations and heal communities? Also, the workshop will “explore the growing governmental and individual attacks on marginalized communities and how we can take meaningful steps to make West Virginia a welcoming home for all people regardless of their group classifications,” according to event information.
“We use a lot of putting people in scenarios (at the workshop), having them think through what they would do and talking about what makes sense,” Cohen said.
Cohen said he heard about the alleged incident in Point Pleasant from a friend who lives there who texted him about the accusations last week. He said the search for a site to host the workshop then happened with The Meeting House being that place.
Though the ACLU is known for arguing legal cases, Cohen said no one has contacted the organization for any legal assistance regarding the incident in Point Pleasant. He said the ACLU has a “pretty nuanced position on hate crimes and what it takes to prove them,” and if anyone did contact them for legal help, that case would be evaluated like any other case.
Cohen acknowledged the ACLU is widely known for its lawyers and lobbyists, filing lawsuits and “going to the legislature and working on behalf of the civil liberties we advocate for,” he said.
However, Cohen explained: “A big part of what we do is community education. We’ve made a greater emphasis on that work in recent months, that’s what this is about here, that’s what we’re going to be doing in Point Pleasant…I hope they (the public) have an open mind and come to the event and go to the workshop. I think it would dispel a lot of misconceptions (about the ACLU). We’re not trying to stir up any problems.”
Cohen said the event tonight (Tuesday) is a starting point to create a dialogue and if the community would like that to continue, the ACLU has other similar workshops to continue that conversation.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.