- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - It wasn’t exactly a warm welcome, this sharp-edged statement from a spirited 13-year-old girl.

“I don’t like po po,” Jekerah Haymes said, using the same street term for police that actor Tyler Perry’s Madea character uses in the film “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.”

This was no movie, though. Jekerah made her statement Saturday morning to two Wilmington police officers who were visiting the Walnut Street YMCA to talk with kids in the Black Achievers Program - Wilmington teens and their mentors - about recent situations in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, where unarmed black males were killed by police in situations that made national headlines and sparked protests across the nation.

She expected anger, she said later, but she got a surprise instead.

“I get you,” said Capt. Faheem Akil, who has been with the Wilmington police department for more than 30 years.

In 90 minutes’ time, Jekerah was chatting with Akil and his colleague, Master Corporal Kenneth Jackson, laughing with them, and joining other teens in applauding their visit.

Her perspective took a 180.

“They didn’t get mad when I didn’t like them,” she said later. “Their reaction to what I said surprised me. And they made me change my opinion.”

It wasn’t meant to be a happy-talk session, where people paint a lovely picture that doesn’t reflect real life.

This was real. Not everyone likes everyone else. Everyone can understand that in ordinary daily life.

“Let’s stop playing with all that nonsense,” Akil said as the morning progressed. “There are some individuals that you like, some you don’t like.”

It’s when a person is stopped by a police officer, who has the means and the authority to use deadly force if necessary, that communication can break down quickly and - sometimes - irreversibly. Strong words, aggressive postures, defiance and disrespect - it all changes what is happening and what might happen next.

“You believe the actual system doesn’t have your back,” Akil said. “That’s what you’re exposed to.”

And sometimes it doesn’t, he said.

“I don’t have a problem with you not liking police,” he said. “I have a problem with why don’t you like police.”

For some, the dislike and defiance arise from previous unjust treatment or abuse of power. For others, it’s a response to peer pressure. Those barriers, though, can make things worse.

“As a senior veteran, we have to be able to communicate with you,” he said. “But if I’m afraid of where you live, if I’m afraid of how you look, if I have apprehension or I define you as the criminal, as the enemy, as this occupying monster force, my response to you is going to be different than if I come to you as a public servant who is part of this community.”

The real question, he said, is who is going to define you?

“Define yourself,” he said. Be calm, be clear, be respectful - even if the officer does not return that respect. Comply with the requests for a driver’s license, proof of insurance.

“You may be innocent, but the officer has no idea who you are, what your actions will be, what your integrity level is, what your intent is.

“I’m not saying things don’t happen, but there are two sides to the story,” he said.

Police have seconds - not months of grand jury testimony, not years of court cases - to make a decision, he said.

Akil and Jackson both said they had been stopped by police, sometimes with guns drawn, who didn’t know they were police officers. Akil said he has been handcuffed, too.

They were calm, identified themselves, did what they were asked to do - and the situations resolved.

“Never let your voice be silent,” Jackson said.

Anthony Biggs, one of the mentors for the Black Achievers program, said he didn’t know any adult black males who hadn’t been handcuffed at one time or another. He said change will come by political pressure - voting out those who don’t hold police accountable.

Others in the room spoke up and said they hadn’t been handcuffed, but the point was made that black males, especially, are often treated more harshly than others in encounters with police.

And if police go beyond their authority, Akil said, file a complaint. Take down the badge number, the officer’s name, note the time and date and location of the encounter, write down the car number.

“Those numbers on the cars are big,” he said. “Unless you’re Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder, you can see those numbers.”

Call city council, county council, the mayor, the governor, he said. They all hold police accountable.

“Hold us accountable the way we’re holding you accountable,” he said. “That’s what has to be done. I’m not going to blow smoke and tell you it’s all peaches and cream. But we can hold each other accountable and be respectful.”

The anger in Ferguson and elsewhere took hold, in part, because many feel the police are not held accountable. That has to change.

“We expect you to turn in your criminals, and you expect us to do the same thing,” Akil said. “If there are officers doing things not within rules and policy - you expect us to stand up and speak out against them. You see it doesn’t always work out that way. You call it no snitching. It’s called blue code. Those walls are trying to come down on both sides.”

It’s not easy to speak up - but it is essential.

“People say, ‘Oh, that boy - he’s just crazy,’” he said. “And then that boy becomes a man. And that man becomes a menace to society. Or they say, ‘Oh, that officer - he’s just like that.’ And then it becomes Ferguson or New York or Cleveland.”

This is not new, Akil said. Young people - Hispanic, white, black - have been killed and beaten and murdered for years.

The anger spills out, fires are set, communities destroyed.

“And now the developer comes, buys it up cheap, turns it into condos, and we’re out,” he said.

The encounter was arranged by Claire Carey, director of the Black Achievers Program, which offers teens support in academics, career advancement, and personal development.

“I think they did an awesome job,” 13-year-old Jekerah said.

___

Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide