POINT PLEASANT — The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia organized a workshop in Point Pleasant Tuesday evening, partly in response to allegations a local teen was threatened with violence and was called a racial slur.
A slideshow with facts on hate crime statistics, strategies on how to handle bigotry and de-escalating techniques were discussed with community attendees during the gathering held at The Meeting House. Individuals also shared their own personal experience and ideas. A strong topic of discussion among the crowd was the disappointment in seeing no elected officials at the meeting.
Joseph Cohen, executive director of the ACLU in West Virginia, and Eli Baumwell, the policy directory of the organization lead discussions and gave advice during the meeting. Cohen discussed why the ACLU felt the need to come to Point Pleasant.
“We were looking for an indivisible group in Point Pleasant such as a ‘women’s march group’ or something equivalent,” Cohen said. “I didn’t get a response but I knew it was important to come to Point Pleasant with or without an already established group of organized group of people. It is important for us that someone come respond after the recent allegations of a hate crime. We need to start a dialogue or to help assist with the dialogue. We really didn’t have any idea how many people would show up. I thought it was a really good turnout to be honest, especially under the circumstance that it was only about a week ago we said we were coming.”
Among the 14 individuals who attended the meeting was Katonya Hart who is a leader of Call to Action for Racial Equality (C.A.R.E coalition). The C.A.R.E. Coalition is made of citizens committed to Racial Justice in West Virginia.
Also at the meeting, Ojas Vaidya who said: “I am a law school graduate and I grew up in Point Pleasant. I have been here since I was about two years old. I came to this meeting because right now I am studying for the Bar Exam and I went to law school with the intention of being a leader but by learning and understanding the problems of West Virginia has right now. If you look in the national media, West Virginia has this picture of having this racial bigotry, with harassment of minorities. It’s important that I hear from the people. It’s important that we as a community can discus issues like this. I really want to make a change. I have an Indian background so issues about minorities is also something I can relate to personally. I hope more meetings like this can happen so we can increase the level of understanding and have dissuasion because West Virginia does have this reputation of being this insular place. We need to broaden our horizon in 2017.”
Miranda Wood is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.