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West Virginia Gov. Urges Protests Of Racism, Police Brutality To Remain Peaceful

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Corey Knollinger
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Protesters in Wheeling, West Virginia stand on the streets on Sunday, May, 31, 2020 to object to the deaths of George Floyd and other African Americans who've died at hands of police.

Gov. Jim Justice is urging West Virginians to remain peaceful and nonviolent as protests against racism and police brutality continue around the country. 

Across the United States, thousands of Americans are protesting the death of George Floyd, a black man who died last week while a Minneappolis police officer held him down with a knee on Floyd’s neck. Some protests have reportedly led to destruction of property, and police in some cities have responded by using force against protesters and journalists.

“I don't see how in the world, a thing like that could happen in the first place and especially when an individual is crying out, you know, and saying they can't breathe,” Justice said of Floyd’s death. “I can't see how any West Virginian could think that that's excusable — and we don't.”

Justice said he does not believe a similar crime  could happen in West Virginia.  

“I can't fathom one of our West Virginia State Police, National Guard or whoever it may be behaving in a way [like]  what happened with Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis,” Justice said. “That's not going to happen in West Virginia.”

However, police in West Virginia have been accused of using excessive force against minorities. 

Freda Gilmore, a black woman, has sued two Charleston Police officers, claiming they punched her last fall. In 2017, two other Charleston Police officers were accused of using excessive force on two black children. 

So far, protests in West Virginia have been characterized as peaceful, although Martinsburg Police are investigating after shots were fired at a Sunday event. 

During a virtual news briefing Monday, Justice repeatedly alluded to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings of non-violence. While Justice called Floyd’s death “inexcusable,” he said he would call on the National Guard should protests become violent. 

Justice said he hoped to strike a balance between protesting police brutality and maintaining order.

“We've got to be on our best game as far as how to handle this, because people are hurting and people are frustrated and, at the same time, we've got to protect our properties and people's rights to those properties, and we've got to police and protect our people as well.”

Justice and state coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh urged those exercising their First Amendment rights to wear masks and stay socially distant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

“If you were in a peaceful protest, with a gathering in excess of 25 people, surely to goodness please at least wear masks and stay a little bit of part as a part as you possibly can,” Justice said.

Marsh said West Virginia’s rate of person-to-person spread of the virus has increased in recent weeks. 

“We cherish our First Amendment rights to free speech and to demonstrate peacefully. But we also know that the coronavirus, COVID-19, thrives on person-to-person contact,” Marsh said.  

The coronavirus has disproportionately affected minority populations, including African Americans. According to data updated Monday by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, African Americans accounted for nearly 7 percent of the state’s positive cases, a community making up a little more than 4 percent of the state’s total population.

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