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Symposium focuses on race issues

December 13, 1997

Symposium focuses on race issues

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer

KEARNEYSVILLE, W.Va. - Frances Miller's voice rose in anger Saturday as she spoke to those at a race relations symposium.

"Where are the other mayors? Where are our legislators? Where are our county commissioners?" asked Miller, 80, of Kearneysville, W.Va.

"If I was an African-American, I'd feel frantic," said Miller, who is white. "I'm absolutely frustrated about our inability to get the message across to the people."

Miller was one of about 50 people, about equally divided racially, who attended a race relations symposium sponsored by the Friends Advancing Intercultural Relations and the Jefferson County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The event was held at the Grace Reformed United Church of Christ.

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Jefferson County education officials and the police chiefs of three Jefferson County communities spoke at length to the crowd about the efforts they are making in the community to hire more minorities and to further race relations.

Charles Town Police Chief Mike Aldridge said he was fortunate in that the latest recruit hired by his department, who had scored the highest on the civil service test and in the interview, happens to be black.

The police chiefs said that it is difficult finding qualified applicants for vacancies because a police officer can travel an hour away and make twice as much money with Washington-area departments.

"I don't have a problem recruiting minorities. I have a problem recruiting anybody," Aldridge said.

The town's population is about 22 percent black, Aldridge said. The other officers on the 10-man department are white.

Aldridge said he's worked to eliminate the perception that blacks commit more crimes than whites, but it is not easy because the image of black criminals is prevalent throughout television and other media.

Aldridge said about 90 percent of the crimes committed in Charles Town are committed by whites.

"There's a perception that if a black guy is on the corner, he's selling dope. If it's two there's a conspiracy. If three, lock your doors. That's just not true," Aldridge said.

Aldridge said there are black drug dealers in town as well as white drug dealers. But Aldridge, a retired high ranking Drug Enforcement Administration official, said he estimated about 95 percent of the drug customers are white.

Aldridge also said people have to become aware that Charles Town is no longer the sleepy community it once was where they could always leave their doors unlocked.

Eight cars have been stolen in Charles Town this year and in all the thefts the vehicles had been left unlocked, Aldridge said. Seven of the cars had the keys in them, he said.

Evelyn Taylor, of Charles Town, who is black, said she found the presentations by the three police chiefs  - Aldridge, Shepherdstown Chief Cecil Arnold, and Ranson Chief Bill Roper - informative because she did not realize what they were doing behind the scenes.

Jefferson County Board of Education President Peter Dougherty said there are programs at the schools to teach about diversity and multi-culturalism.

But he said finding recruits to become black educators is difficult, because they do not have to travel far to Maryland or Virginia to make more money.

Shepherd College president David Dunlop said that minority recruitment of students has increased 47 percent from 1994 to 1997.

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