Introduction by INDYKIDS STAFF
In black and Latino communities throughout the United States, many young people feel unsafe around the people who are supposed to be there to protect and serve them: the police. A Gallup poll from 2011 through 2014 showed that 59 percent of white people feel they can really trust the police, compared to only 37 percent of black people.
According to Indiana grandmother LeTava Mabilijengo, black and Latino youth live in a very different reality than their white peers: “We don’t tell our black sons the same things that white women tell their sons.” Like many parents of black and Latino kids, LeTeva feels like she carries the extra burden of having to teach her children to deal with police officers very carefully.
Over-Policing and Police Brutality in Communities of Color
By MARIANNE NACANAYAY, age 12
Youth justice advocate Xavier McElrath-Bey, now 36 years old, had his first encounter with the police when he was six, growing up in Chicago. “My encounters with police were plentiful and overwhelmingly negative… They slapped me, punched me, poked me with nightsticks and choked me so often that I thought their behavior was part of the process—that it was normal.”
Police are called upon to enforce the law. But what happens when policing becomes excessive and leads to tragic consequences for people like Xavier? The act of police stopping and frisking someone, the presence of police in schools, criminalizing immigration, criminalizing prisons and police brutality are all forms of over-policing.
According to the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project, from April 2009 to June 2010, 5,986 reports of police misconduct were reported nationwide. Within the same time period, 382 fatalities were reportedly related to police misconduct.
In 2011, the Vera Institute of Justice surveyed 530 young people aged 18 to 25 from parts of New York City where the majority of residents are either African American or Hispanic. They found that 76 percent of those surveyed had been stopped by the police at least once in the past year, and 51 percent of those believed that they had been treated worse because of their ethnicity. Eighty-eight percent of those surveyed noted that they think people in their neighborhood do not trust the police.
“My first time I was stopped and frisked, I was about 13 years old,” said Kasiem Walters, a high school senior in New York. “[T]hey instill this fear in you, and then it forces you to have this mindset that you are a criminal… we should feel like citizens of New York, and not criminals.”
Police in Schools
Over-policing also finds its way into classrooms. In 1998, the New York City Police Department took control of school safety. They increased the number of armed police officers, metal detectors, bag searches, pat-downs and school safety officers in schools.
“Sometimes the classroom feels like a jail cell,” said Jane Min, a student from Queens, New York. “I think before the city decides to post more security officers [in] our city’s schools, they should really think about the effect they are going to have on… our educations.”
Communities Raise Their Voices
In an effort to combat over-policing in communities, websites like CopWatchNYC.org have been set up to allow individuals who witness over-policing report incidents and post the evidence online.
Youth in other communities affected by over-policing are also standing up. The Dream Defenders, an organization of youth of color founded in Florida, have been active in criticizing police violence. After a police officer in Ferguson, MO, shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August of this year, the group has expanded to a nationwide movement.
“I’m tired of fearing for myself when I see a police, that I’m scared something is going to happen to me,” Danielle Adams, co-president of a chapter of Dream Defenders in Tallahassee, FL, said. “I see another generation growing up, going through the things we’re going through. The work we’re doing now, we’re doing this so our next generation doesn’t have to do it anymore.”
Letter From an Educator
By MAYA JAMES
You’re not mine, but you’re mine.
While watching your bulging backpacks and untied laces
exit our cocoon of a classroom,
I hold my breath until morning.
Each time a video is posted
of earth-toned boys laid out,
making snow angels in concrete,
And then there are the brown girls
whose names are forgotten and whispered
In the parentheses of pain;
I chant for them too.
My thoughts become a hashtag mantra.
When you come back to me each afternoon, I breathe.
You turn the corner with typical teenage chatter belying
the slumped shoulders and weariness in your eyes.
My lips quiver with the need to affirm
you are more than a target.
I am urged to say
you don’t have to always raise your hands in surrender.
Arms pointed upward keep the sky
from falling on our heads.
My tongue caresses words
that convey there is beauty
in the world,
even in the face of violent ugliness.
I want to tell you
it is your promise and potential
that keeps me from giving in to defeat
each time we lose one.
Since you’re not mine
(but you’re mine)
I sometimes have to stand in the silence of boundaries.
So I package all of this into a simple question:
How was your day?