Baton Rouge group urges open dialogue in wake of Ferguson decision

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - While the streets of Baton Rouge were quiet Monday night, many say they can relate to the growing frustration and tension in Ferguson, Missouri, but one group hopes to turn what could become an explosive situation into a platform for change.

Nearly 700 miles separate Baton Rouge from the scenes playing out in Ferguson. However, the conflict at the center of it all hits very close to home.

"Unfortunately, because there have been experiences similar in Baton Rouge," said Maxine Crump, president and CEO of Dialogue on Race Louisiana.

DORL is a group that uses structured conversation to try to unravel racism by focusing on three questions: what is the situation; how do you relate to it; and, how do you prevent it? Crump said the death of Michael Brown spurred many concerns in the Baton Rouge area, especially among young black residents. Those concerns were voiced during a forum hosted by DORL on Sunday, ahead of Monday's grand jury decision.

"They were concerned about being profiled. They were concerned about being stopped just to be asked questions without them having done anything," Crump added.

Graduate student Kyomi Gregory moved to Baton Rouge from New York to finish her Ph.D. at LSU. She said since then, she has noticed some problems with race relations. She also feels the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson is unfair.

"I feel outraged by that because here is this unarmed young man and there's no accountability for that," Gregory said. Yes, it's always a he say, she say incident where the officers could say he did this. The person who was shot will never be able to tell their story."

The decision triggered outrage and protests across the country and on social media. Gregory said that's why open dialogue, like the forums provided by DORL, is so important.

"We need to start having a discussion. We need training and accountability for these police officers in terms of cultural sensitivity and also in terms of dealing with individuals with disabilities," Gregory explained.

Crump said it's not just law enforcement that needs to come to the table. She believes that any institution that serves the public, from grocery stores to schools, should embrace the change they can generate among residents by engaging in open and honest conversations. She also hopes anyone feeling anger over the events in Ferguson will use that energy for something positive.

"I certainly hope this a launch for more dialogue for people in the end," Crump stated.

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