By CBS Baltimore Staff

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — With the unrest that has unfolded over the past year, race relations is a topic that has been top of mind for many Americans, including the Baltimore community.

Here at WJZ, we wanted to address this issue head-on. That’s why Vic Carter and Rick Ritter hosted “A Talk About Race,” a half-hour town hall that brought together people from all walks of life to discuss where we’ve been, where we stand and where we go from here.

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For Baltimore, it’s an issue that hits close to home after the in-custody death of Freddie Gray in 2015. And while his death has resulted in changes within the Baltimore Police Department, many people feel strongly there is more work to be done.

So, during the town hall, we tackled the uncomfortable questions. How can we confront institutionalized racism? What can we do to improve police-community relations? What do meaningful progress and change look like?

The goal was to reckon with our past and come up with solutions for the future. But we couldn’t do it alone — we invited five panelists with different perspectives to share their thoughts.

The Voices

  • Bishop Antonio Palmer with the United Black Clergy of Anne Arundel County;
  • John Wesley, spokesman for Baltimore’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights;
  • Adam Jackson, CEO of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle;
  • Ericka Alston, CEO of ACCESS Granted;
  • Retired Sgt. James Spearman with the Annapolis Police Department.

In Their Own Words

Below are a handful of thoughts our panelists shared during the town hall. To watch the complete discussion, click play on the video player above.

Spearman: “One of the things that I always say is that no law enforcement agency, no matter how good they are, if they don’t have the support and trust of the people, they’re just an occupying force and nothing ever gets done. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the community, but there’s also a lot of work that needs to be done within law enforcement.”

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Alston: “My most heartbreaking experience comes from asking a young person, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ‘Grow up, I’m trying to make it to tomorrow.’ That’s our reality. Our young people are hopeless. There is no evidence around them that outside of those that live in their home, that someone cares about them. If they’re in a school system designed to fail, they’re intentionally and strategically placed in a pipeline to prison. … Our young people need to be seen, heard, respected and invested in.”

Jackson: “When you have a structural problem, it requires and necessitates a structural response. And that takes time because all we’ve gotten is the opposite for many years. And Baltimore is a city that has suffered from system disinvestment over decades and generations. And I think what people want to see, like for me, it would be to go down to Penn North and to see all the buildings renovated and to see people happy and safe.”

Wesley: “We have to find a way to help the officers. The community has to find a way to help these officers spend more time in these communities when they are not there for enforcement. You know, we expect them for enforcement. But we don’t expect them to do things things like, you know, I used to speak at schools and I’d ask kids, ‘What do you want to be?’ When the Officer Friendly programs are out there, inadvertently all the boys said, ‘I want to be a fireman. I want to be a policeman. That is no longer the answer. Nobody wants to be a policeman. I think that speaks volumes.”

Palmer: “If you don’t believe that Jesus had melanin in his skin and you believe that everybody else that looks like me are cursed people, then you’re going to continue to endure privilege, you’re going to continue to allow injustices to take place and be silent about it, you’re going to continue to allow a police officer to commit brutality and fatality and so forth without saying a word. And your congregations of thousands of white folks are going to follow suit. But if you lift up your voice — if a Franklin Graham, who has a national platform, will stand besides a TD Jakes and say, ‘together we fight’ and ‘together we’ve had enough of this’ — it’ll start turning around.”

More From ‘A Talk About Race’

Here’s some of the conversation that didn’t make it into the half-hour special:

In Case You Missed It

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If you weren’t able to tune in Thursday evening, we’ll be re-airing ‘A Talk About Race’ on CBSN Baltimore. Below you’ll find a programming schedule:

  • 6:30 p.m. Friday
  • 8 a.m. Saturday
  • 9 a.m. Sunday

CBS Baltimore Staff