COMPTON — High school students, members of the Compton Unified School District police force and deputies from the Compton Sheriff’s Station gathered together at the Compton Library April 3 for a town hall meeting designed to improve relations between the groups.
The meeting, hosted by the CUSD Police in conjunction with three other community organizations, featured a two-hour discussion on police-student relationships in which both students and officers shared stories about experiences they have had with the other side.
Four students — Kanyah Curd, 17, Alesha Hodge, 16, Jamaija Prince, 17, and Keishan White, 17, — served on the panel with Compton school Police Chief William Wu, and two members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department from the Compton Sheriff’s Station.
“The first time I had a run in with the cops was when I was 15 years old,” White said. “I didn’t have my license, but I was driving with my aunt and got pulled over. Back then, I had locks and a scruffy beard and was driving a nice car so I guess that’s why I was pulled over.
“I don’t think the cop ever told me why he pulled me over,” White added. “He just told me that he hoped I did well on my driver’s test. It’s hard for me to trust the police when all I see from myself, my stepfather, my uncles is bad experiences.”
Not all panelists had bad first experiences with law enforcement, but the impressions left by their presence seemed to be strong.
Panelist Curd often saw police on her school campus and found it best to stay clear of them.
“The police don’t really help much,” she said. “I’ve never really seen a police office do much. Plus, I see all the shooting on the media. I respect police because they’re human, but they’re also humans with guns and guns can be intimidating. It’s hard to trust humans that are intimidating,”
While understanding the gap between community and law enforcement seems to be growing on a daily basis, the panel moderator, Juan Cloy, deputy director of outreach and training with the Police Training Institute, asked how to close that gap.
“The West Coast has a different way of policing unlike cities like New York where police walk their beats while getting to know the community on foot,” Wu, the Compton school police chief, said. “Here in L.A., we’re always in cars and it’s hard to talk to people when you’re historically only communicating with a community when they’re being pulled over.
“We need more events like this when you’re seeing us as human beings and not just as people with badges.”
Parents in the audience were given a chance to speak and one woman said, “as a mother of two black boys, it’s hard to trust a system where everything changes when those boys turn 15.”
“Black boys are targeted in this community and I have to teach them how to survive run ins with the police. It’s hard to talk about communication when we’re just trying to make sure our kids, especially our black boys, just come home.”
A Compton homeowner revealed that he, too, had to teach his son how to survive being pulled over.
“I taught him to respect police officers but I also taught him how to behave when in the presence of an officer. As a black man, it was my duty to teach him what’s real. I’ve devoted my life to being a mentor. And the truth is that we have to be especially careful when teaching our sons how to survive.”
Officer Jackson of the Compton school police said he grew up in Compton and had both good and bad experiences with law enforcement but didn’t want anyone to “think that he didn’t understand what it meant to be a black man” serving his community.
“There are programs for kids but we also have programs and training institutes for adults,” he said. “We don’t just police here, we live here too.”
The town hall meeting was the latest in a series of community initiatives through Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an organization started in 1996 with a group of police chiefs, sheriff’s deputies, prosecutors and officers promoting and fostering solutions that target kids and steering them away from crime.
Cloy encouraged residents to learn about the good things happening with the police department from their social media and website. He asked that each person on the panel view each other as human beings and to connect once the panel ended.
Michael Freeman, executive director of Elevate Your G.A.M.E, another sponsor of the event, closed the meeting by challenging the audience to think of “where do we go from here?”
After asking everyone why they were in attendance, Freeman said, “I’d say you are the chosen ones because now you get to take the message and share it with others.”