Last weekend’s “Youth Take on Chicago” CAPS meeting was different from an earlier get together: The room that was filled with students and community members last momth was scarce and filled mostly with empty chairs.
Fifteenth District police commander Dwayne Betts honored community requests from February’s meeting to bring more of his officers to participate in the discussion.
But only a handful of people returned this month. Commissioner Richard Boykin said the police held up to their end of the agreement, and the community must hold up to theirs.
“We need people here,” agreed Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th).
“We line up for new gyms shoes, but it is just as important to save a life,” he said.
The small turnout did not prevent the discussion from continuing.
Building trust between law enforcement and the community, especially the young, has been a challenge in Austin – and throughout the city.
A lot of violence in Austin is driven by a lack of opportunity, Boykin said. The gap between law enforcement and the community does not help.
“Our biggest threat is losing community trust,” Commander Betts said. “Once you lose community trust, you have nothing.”
Iesha Hollins, a community advocate, said police and West Side residents should not grow discouraged. Many of the kids in the community have “grown-up problems,” she said, and need someone to care because they don’t get any affection at home.
“Show them that you care,” Hollins said. “It’s the small things that these kids care about.”
Even the toughest thugs need love, she added, which is why interaction between the police is so important.
Officers can be that support kids need and provide the care that many of them lack. Some parents have lost hope and given up on their kids, Hollins said, which contributes to poor behavior.
“It’s sad that a lot of these kids don’t know what love is,” she said. “They’re numb to what’s going on.”
Career coach Nate Brown also emphasized the importance of treating people, especially kids, more like human beings and less like criminals.
It’s as simple as shaking a kid’s hand or conversationally asking them how they are doing, he said. That way, kids are not conditioned to only see police in a bad light.
“Every police officer is not out to get you,” police officer Eric Washington said. “We try to do a good job and make someone’s day better.”
Brown’s statements sparked the question of why the youth grow more afraid or resentful of the police as they get older. One officer present said he notices how some kids treat him, despite his efforts to engage and be supportive.
“When they’re younger, they’re easier to talk to, they appreciate you,” he said. “And then, when they get a little bit older, there seems to be this rhetoric that we kill people for no reason, or because I’m white I’m racist.”
The media may be partially to blame, the group agreed. Negative images of police and young, mainly black, boys interacting with each other helps perpetuate negative impressions.
This leads to fear, Brown said, which is counterintuitive to building trust in the community.
“We can’t have fear and fear meeting each other,” Brown said.
Children are the best judges of character, Hollins said. If things are going to change in the community, it starts with adults showing kids the right way.
Young people “want to see something different,” Hollins said. “They want to see true community and real action from us adults.”