September 01, 2016
By Shannen Hill
The Los Angeles Police Department came out to the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, along with the Institute of Nonviolence in Los Angeles, to have an open dialogue with youth about how they could be better officers on Tuesday, August 30, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Youth from various teen, after-school and foster-care programs came and held no bars as they raised questions about gun control, police brutality and more. The event took place in the community room at the Crenshaw Mall where nine round tables were set up to where each table had a police officer, a facilitator to guide the conversation and about six youth. Many of the youth started off reluctant because it was a mandatory event, but it didn’t take long for the whole room to be filled with conversation.
“It was a blessing to be here,” said Haneef Williams, 16. “I appreciated all of the sharing and we got to see that there’s not all bad cops. There are good cops too.”
The ‘Days of Dialogue’ events have been going on in Los Angeles since 1995 where community members are given the opportunity to voice their concerns to the LAPD, but this was one of the rare occasions where the focus was on young people.
“A lot of the youth at my table didn’t really have experiences with police other than their family members or something that they’ve seen with their friends or on social media,” said Officer Lester Bodiford, who works for the Leimert Park/Crenshaw Corridor of the LAPD. “I think that this is the best way to bridge the gap, you know, to just talk. They’re fed up, but that does not mean that we’re not fed up with the bad cops as well.”
The teens brought up ways to have more productive training by proposing that officers get to know their community on a positive level for some months before going in with a badge and gun. The officers also gave input on their perspective and put the teens in scenarios so they could get an idea of what is going through an officer’s mind.
“I expected to get a better understanding of what the police go through everyday,” said Zachariah Brass, 15. “But what really stood out to me is how each and every young person participated and got up. It really made me feel that we were connecting because we were all relating to the same subjects.”
The topic of social media also came up as the youth talked about how they would like to see more efforts to combat cyberbullying. They also said that social media could be a way for officers to reach out and have a better image.
“I learned that everything that I see on TV and social media is not all that there is,” said Kristin Wealth, 16. “It was very inspirational and motivational to be here and see where the cops are coming from.”
The insight was gained on both sides as many of the police officers were open to the negative criticism. They encouraged the youth to give their opinions and have a discussion where everyone can be heard.
“The youth did a great job with answering the questions and they also weren’t afraid to speak their truth to us and that’s what this dialogue is all about, for them to get out the problems that they have,” said Officer Deandre James, who works for the Southwest Division of the LAPD. “Me being a former foster youth, I just thought that this is an event that should be done on a larger scale, but we have to start somewhere and this is a great start.”
For more information about how you can join the discussion, visit www.daysofdialogue.org or www.futureofpolicing.org.