Charlottesville Chief of Police speaks at campus Forum on Hate Crimes

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion hosted the “Forum on Hate Crimes” this past Wednesday, Oct. 30. Events were held from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., including presentations from Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, Cynthia Deitle, a former FBI agent and director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. A panel titled ‘Preventing Hate Crimes and Law Enforcement’ featured Dr. RaShall Brackney, chief of police for Charlottesville.

Brackney spent 30 years in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and is a Carnegie Mellon alumna, earning her B.S. in 2009 and her master’s degree in 2011 from Carnegie Mellon.

Brackney’s last speaking engagement came near the end of the activity-packed day. She led a discussion, which mainly consisted of a Q&A, in the main seating area of the Center of Diversity and Inclusion with students and faculty.

Attendees listened intently to her descriptions of her experience in Pittsburgh. Brackney began by speaking about her life at Carnegie Mellon, “When I arrived here I didn’t feel like I belonged… there was only one black professor, so it was an extremely isolating experience,” she said.

During her discussion, Brackney explained how she exists as both a black person and a police officer. In her career she has worked in “every division” to continue her work in deciphering the ways that the system was built to harm black people, she says.

She highlighted her own activism within her job: “I have protested against other cops because of their violence against black men.” Notably, she said she was disgusted by the way that three Pittsburgh police officers used excessive force on Jordan Miles, a black student who was brutally beaten and left with bruises and broken bones.

One student asked Brackney, “how do you mitigate the fact that many policies that are enforced by police officers are meant to set up black people to fail?”

Brackney responded that she tries to look at policies through an “equitable lens” and that she has agreements with the Commonwealth Attorney about what they will and will not prosecute.

She continued that she would not “criminalize crimes of poverty, or crimes of culture,” and that she was on a mission to decriminalize “many things.” She noted that she always tries to examine each case and often asks herself how she can help children without hurting them.

The last question asked of Brackney called for an examination of the political position that the Commonwealth Attorney is put in.

A student asked, “how do they push for progress in an electable position where they might be voted out?”

Brackney responded, “I tell people that if you lose your job, that’s when you use all the tools in your bag. You use all your media, all your connections, and all your friends because it is necessary to be extremely intentional when dismantling structural issues.”

Brackney’s last comment was a call-to-action to each student and faculty in the room: to be more intentional, more bold, and a little bit louder, because breaking down issues won’t be done softly and without direction.

As she went around the room, she took each student’s hands, asked them their name, repeated it back to them, and smiled brightly.