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Breaking Blue Barriers:

Collaboration Between High School Students and Police

Diamond Jordan

Blackstone Academy Charter School

Senior Seminar

Erin Malcolm, Stacy Joslin, and Anthony Kulla

January 20, 2017


Tony Robison was shot by Officer Matt Kenny on March 6, 2015 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Officer Kenny stated, that Robinson had Xanax, mushrooms and marijuana in his system and

that multiple witnesses told investigators Robinson was tweaking out on mushrooms, jumping

in front of cars and intimidating bystanders,(Johnson). All over social media and the news

teenagers and police have had deadly confrontations that could have been avoided. Teenagers vs.

police violence has been all over the news and social media for the past year or so. One would

believe that the communities, with many teenagers. Its police departments might have a strong

bond. Although this may be true for some communities, it is definitely not true for most.

Teenagers are the future of our society. If communication between the police and teenagers isnt

positive, then how will our future world function? The relationship between these two parties

needs to improve and it can if communities and police departments acknowledge the problem.

Police officers and students need to take purposeful steps to improve communication.

Background:

Police relationships with teens are currently characterized by violence and distrust.

Violent interactions with police officers are common in the media today and have been common

in the real world for a long time. A July article written by Celisa Calacal states, police have

killed 59 people so far this month, (Calacal). This staggering statistic is too high and wasnt an

isolated incident or two, it was 59 deaths caused by police in 1 month meaning there were

approximately 1 or 2 deaths per day. It is worth stating that police officers are resorting to lethal

violence in several situations. Even police stops that may seem casual and not emergencies. Like

verbal arguments or traffic stops have resulted in physical altercations. In addition to the

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violence, there is also a great distrust between the police and teens, particularly teens of color.

Communities are trying to increase trust. One way, is by introducing the idea of body-worn

cameras. However, Joseph Goldstein reports that, While body-worn cameras were quickly

hailed as a tool to foster police accountability, some civil rights activists and technology experts

say they are more concerned with the policies that police departments develop regarding use of

the cameras than the speed with which officers start wearing them, (Goldstein). Clearly, the

police departments should work with local community groups and local government to develop

policies that are transparent so all parties can be compliant as well as confident that the policies

will be followed and enforced. Additional policies along with the cameras are an amicable start

but may not be enough for people to feel safe in the community due to the deep rooted mistrust

between the police and the community. People may feel confident that the videos will help bring

justice to both the criminals and officers, however, people will question if the officers will use

them properly and fairly to show all the evidence no matter what the video may reveal.

The problems between police and teens are caused by many reasons, such as

misunderstanding and prejudice. Misunderstandings occur when both police and teenagers dont

have the same view of a situation. For example, in June 2015, a video of a Texas pool party gone

wrong went viral. The video showed how the police officers, who were called to the scene of

disturbance, forcefully shut down the pool party just because of the noise (which was the

reason they were called to the neighborhood). The boy who shot the video, Brandon Brooks

stated, the argument that drew police to the pool party didnt even involve most of the teens [the

officer] was going after, (Fantz). This event shows a misunderstanding because the police

jumped to the conclusion that everyone was a part of the situation when, in reality, it was only a

few guests.

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The teens, as well, misunderstood the severity of the situation and behaved in a way that

made the officers feel surrounded and threatened making the problem worse. Misunderstandings

can be added to a situation by prejudices. Police officers are human and quite often they may

judge a situation or a person with their own biases, beliefs or react by misconceptions of a

certain group or certain people. This issue has always been a problem, but its currently in the

public eye because of the increase in deaths by police being brought to light by more media

coverage and technology. Citizens have taped several of these incidents on cellphones; because

of this organizations like Black Lives Matter and the media are covering their protests and more

outrage is being shown in the public.

After a fatal shooting in San Diego this year, a local man of San Diego, Eddie Price,

described the problem to Sunil Dutta: I have been a black man for 56 years. None of this is new

to me, (Andrews). Its not only horrible to think that being part of a community of color means

you have to get used to being mistreated, but its also horrible to have to grow up and believe that

being mistreated by the police is a norm.

While misunderstandings and prejudice are one cause of the violence and distrust

between police and students, the violence and distrust itself causes deaths and loss of respect for

police. The deaths are obvious; there have been reported deaths due to police brutality all over

the country. Research from The Guardian done by Jon Swaine, Oliver Laughland, Jamiles Lartey

and Ciara McCarthy, taken during 2015 year span, states 55 [reported] deaths of teens cause by

police; 15 under the age of age 18; and 40 of the ages 18 and 19, (The Counted: People Killed

by Police). The deaths have forced the community to look at the policing system and analyze the

significant impact it has on how the community is treated. In a 2015 article in The Washington

Times, famous activist and author Toni Morrison calls out the police for their violence and

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prejudice publicly. This shows the growing disrespect for the police because she has an influence

on public perception, and by presenting a biased opinion of the situation she is able to bring the

attention of the situation to everyone and convince them that the police are wrong. When the

most common opinion about police officers is negative, teens cant help but react to it and be

negative and disrespectful to the officers as well.

Individuals Making a Positive Impact:

Positive communication between police and students can build a bridge and start a

positive conversation to begin to try to understand and to begin to listen to one another. Doing

so, in a relaxed environment can prove to be important for the groups to communicate well and

begin healing. Improving positive communication between police and students by having them

interact in relaxed situations can help students to see officers as human, which both increases

student respect and decreases student anxiety. For a former seniors project, a police officer went

to Blackstone Academys first field day in 2015; this was a positive encounter because students

treated him like he was a friend- he was just another guy. They were able to see him outside of

uniform, which made the kids understand police officers are people too and they are like

everyone else. Also in a neighborhood setting in Gainsville, Florida, a police officer was called

to a scene by a complaint about teenagers being loud and playing basketball in the street. The

officer was respectful and approached the kids in a friendly manner. He began to play basketball

with them and ended the fun by stating I will be back tomorrow with back up, (Karimi). The

next day the officer went back with some fellow officers and Shaquil ONeil as his back up. The

kids were thrilled and played a game of basketball with the officers and Shaq. Realizing the

officer kept his word and went back to play with the kids, was very important and is something

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they will never forget. This allowed the kids in both situations on both days to relate to the

officers as a person; on a personal level. It is easier to respect their point of view rather than

seeing them as someone who doesnt care. These relationships help build trust and a positive

relationship, which makes interactions less stressful.

If police take steps to be involved in the community in positive ways, then the

community will react and create a better environment for everyone. CBS Boston reported that

police in Walpole, Massachusetts were acting on a new initiative to give out tickets to children

for the kids behaving well (Marrill). The kids were able to see that by being naturally good, they

were rewarded by the police department. For example, two kids looked both ways and held their

mothers hands before crossing the street. Another child received a good ticket for wearing his

helmet as he rode his bike. Each kid was presented with a good ticket with their name on it, the

officers name, along with a gift card for free ice cream at the popular neighborhood ice cream

shop. This helped the kids to realize that policemen arent only there to enforce the law; they can

also be there for good reasons. By these circumstances occurring, the positive relationship

between police and students start at a young age and can be helpful because students will

understand that police are also there for positive re-enforcement. Kids who see these types of

interactions, feel better around police and thrive to do the right thing more often.

Poor Perception of the Group:

Even though there are individuals making a positive impact on community/police

relations, the overall public opinion of law enforcement officers is trending negative. Serious

violent incidents, including rape, attempted rape, robbery and physical attack, occurred in an

estimated 13 percent of U.S. schools in 2013-2014, according to federal data, with 26,000

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serious violent incidents reported in those schools. Two percent of the nations schools reported

fights involving a weapon,(Brown). Having these statistics be so recent police officer may be on

the fence because there has been reported violence in schools, such as the fights with weapons.

However lately in the media, there have been multiple instances that show evidence of a lack of

positive relationships between police and teens. For instance, at William E. Tolman Senior High

School, there was a case where an officer at the school site felt threatened and slammed a

student onto the floor. Despite the officers feeling of being threatened, there was no real threat

and his actions were unsubstantiated. Two students, Ivander and Tyler Debergo, were arrested

after the incident but later released and not charged. Students and families are seeing students

being mistreated by police on the news across the country, not just in this one example. With this

saturation of negative interactions, why should anyone be expected to unquestioningly trust the

policing system?

Some police may believe that the people, of the United states, shouldnt be questioning

the trust of the system. However, Eddie Craig, a former Deputy Sheriff, tells Justin Gardner from

The Free Thought Project They have made this system convenient to allow your rights to be

violated in a way that you would much rather have that happen than stand up for them (1). Here,

a former law enforcement officer admits that the public can be, and is being, mistreated by the

police force. As a result of claims like these and situations like the one at Tolman, people feel

that the expected blind trust of law enforcement is not only unjust, but unsafe. In other words,

more community policing programs should be created with restoring the public and police

relations.

Fixing the Problem with Purposeful Opportunities:

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By creating purposeful opportunities for police officers and students to have positive

interactions, both parties will have better understanding of each other. For example, there was a

peace rally that Blackstone Academy had in the spring of 2015 where all the public schools, such

as William E. Tolman High School, Charles E. Shea High School, Central Falls High School, and

BACS walked to a park with police and spent time in a casual, stress-free, neutral environment.

This was a great start for all parties to begin to learn more about each other and begin to bridge

the gap between students and police. This helped the whole community see how all four schools

and police departments actually had good intentions towards each other; they all wanted to be

part of positivity by meeting on the same grounds.

Not only is it possible for students to learn that police are here to protect them and be

positive role models, it is also important for police officers to know that teens understand the

positive intentions of their jobs and that we respect those precautionary aspects. There are a few

questions one should think to themselves regarding police, such as: Are officers participating in

local projects? Support a Police Athletic League or other sports project, besides being there for

security reasoning? And when was the last time they stopped to talk to a group of kids just to say

hi? By having police interacting with the community on their own free will, the community will

see they are pushing for a better relationship and they are making the first steps. Chris Cognac

expressed his feelings towards officers taking the step by stating, Non-enforcement community

engagement activities make a huge contribution to building and maintaining lasting relationships

and community trust. The fact that an officer goes out of his or her way to participate in

something that is important to a certain segment of the community shows that the officer really

cares about the members of that community, not just about enforcing laws. These non-

enforcement community engagements help because, just like at Blackstone Academy, the officers

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are pushing to make a personal connection with the community and the kids; which will make

the community want to have a personal connection with the officers as well. These personal

connections are valuable because it will create a trust that will help any future interactions that

may occur.

Earned Respect:

Many people can argue that police officers are not required to clarify their actions in most

circumstances when an officer is stopping or detaining a person for a possible illegal infraction

or crime. A police officer from the Ferguson police, for example, was forced to use a lethal and

fatal act against a teen. Later, the officer told The Washington Post, Dont argue with me, dont

call me names, dont tell me that I cant stop you, dont say Im a racist pig, dont threaten that

youll sue me and take away my badge. Dont scream at me that you pay my salary, and dont

even think of aggressively walking towards me, (Dutta). According to this mindset, no one

should be second guessing what the officers are doing because its their job to do what they have

to do to make our community as safe as possible.

However, this argument is flawed because the community around the police should feel

as if the police are on their side. The police should be looking out for the community and the

community should know that the police has their back so they can all cooperate on a positive

way. Briana Jefferson was interviewed by Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center, and she

had this to say I also felt grateful for the sense of protection they provided when I saw officers

patrolling my neighborhood. This woman has had faith in the police, not because she blindly

trusts them, but because they have earned that respect by doing their job effectively.

Conclusion:

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Police officers and students need to take purposeful steps to improve their

communication. Certain police officers in certain communities already try, on their own, to

create a positive impact on all residence in the community in a positive way. For example

Central Falls, in all of the city events the police are there having fun with the residents and

people in the community. In an interview, Officer Joe from the Central Falls Police Department

stated, we as police officers want students to have trust in us to protect them and their families.

There are still some misconceptions about the relationship between police and the teenagers in

the community especially. Like I stated before, if the communication between the police and

teenagers arent positive then the safety of both police and communities will not be. In order to

answer this question, I propose we follow the steps of my project to strengthen the bond between

police and high school students.

Work Cited:

Agorist, Matt. "Graphic Video Shows Cops, Punch, Knee & Taser Teen Girl Then Put a Bag
Over
Her Head Read." The Free Thought. N.p., 22 June 2016. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.

Andrews, Travis M., Tony Perry, and Mark Berman. "Police Fatally Shoot Black Man They Say
Took
shooting Stance in San Diego Suburb, Sparking Protests." The Washington Post. N.p.,
28
Sept. 2016. Web. 30 Oct. 2016

Brown, Emma. "Police in Schools: Keeping Kids Safe, or Arresting Them for No Good
Reason?" The
Washington Post. N.p., 8 Nov. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.

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Calacal, Celisa. "This Is How Many People Police Have Killed so Far in 2016 The Year Isnt
Even
over Yet." Think Progress. Dylan Petrohilos, 5 July 2016. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.

Cognac, Chris. "Ready, Set, Engage! Ideas and Options for Community Engagement and
Partnership
Building." Community Policing Dispatch. N.p., June 2015. Web. 7 Apr. 2017.

Dutta, Sunsil. "Im a Cop. If You Dont Want to Get Hurt, Dont Challenge Me." The
Washington
Post. N.p., 19 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

Goldstein, Joseph. "Not One New York Police Officer Has a Body Camera." The New York
Times.
The New York Times, 04 Oct. 2016. Web. July-Aug. 2016.

Fantz, Ashley, Holly Yan, and Catherine E. Shoichet. "Texas Pool Party Chaos: 'Out of Control'
Police
Officer Resign." CNN. N.p., 9 June 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2016

Gardner, Justin. "Former-Cop Exposes How Police Will Violate Your Rights During Every Stop
&
How to Beat It." The Free Thought. N.p., 7 June 2016. Web. 13 Dec. 2016.

Jefferson, Brianna. "Attitude Towards Police: A Cycle of Distrust." Michigan Youth Violence
Prevention Center. Alison Grodzinski, 2 July 2013. Web. 17 Dec. 2016.

Johnson, Alex. "Tony Robinson Shooting: No Charges for Wisconsin Police Officer." NBC
NEWS.
N.p., 12 May 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2017.

Karimi, Faith. "Shaq Florida Officer Surprise Kids with a Basketball Game." CNN. N.p., 24 Jan.
2016.
Web. 20 Mar. 2017.

Lee, Trymaine. "Why Vonderrit Myers Matters." MSNBC. N.p., 18 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 Nov.
2016

Richardson, Valerie. "Police Kill More White than Blacks, But Minority Deaths Generate More
Outrage." The Washington Times. N.p., 21 Apr. 2015. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.

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Roberts, Frank Leon. 10. Womens ENews, #SayHerName Calls for Gender Inclusive
Movement
to End State Violence. May 20, 2015. Web. (n.d.): n. pag. NYU. NYU, Oct. 2015. Web.
Sept. 2016.

Walpole Police Ticket Children For Good Behavior. Perf. Liam Martin, Paula Ebben, and Kate
Merrill. CBS. N.p., 10 Sept. 2015. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.

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