West Virginia Northern Community College Hosts Civil Rights Discussion in Wheeling

Photo by Jessica Broverman Gerald Clemont and Kristina Martin participate in a discussion with law enforcement on civil rights Thursday at West Virginia Northern Community College in Wheeling.

WHEELING — Community members came together with law enforcement on West Virginia Northern Community College’s Wheeling campus for a discussion on civil rights Thursday evening.

The event was hosted by the Wheeling Police Department, the Ohio Valley Ministerial Alliance and the FBI Civil Rights Squad of Pittsburgh. A dozen members of Wheeling’s police force were in attendance, in addition to a diverse group of community members.

Three FBI agents, Gregg Frankhouser, Samantha Bell and Matt Batcher, led the discussion, which focused on “The Color of Law.” Bell said the term “color of law” refers to a section of U.S. code which makes acts performed under the appearance of legal authorization — when no such right exists — federal crimes.

Videos were presented and discussed by those in attendance, with Bell and Batcher educating the crowd on the “color of law” provision did or did not apply to each scenario.

“Every time that you see something on the news that involves an officer, we watch every single one of them. … We’re pulling evidence from everywhere,” Bell said.

The agents said police often must make decisions with limited information when responding to a call.

“Often (police) don’t know anything in these scenarios, so they are arriving on the scene with very little information,” Bell said.

Audience members were heavily involved in discussion and commented on their own experiences with law enforcement.

“My son is black and he has been pulled over by police and surrounded by police, so I thought this was a good event to get involved in,” said Kristina Martin, a member of the Ohio Valley Ministerial Alliance.

Among the scenarios discussed Thursday involved a case in which the agents’ squad became involved, which involved bodily harm to a detained individual from a stun gun used by an officer.

According to Bell, the case was closed and the court ruled in the FBI’s favor.

“It’s a bad time in the U.S. It is, (but) every time a situation like this occurs, every department looks at what they may do better,” Bell said.

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