Several years ago I received a call from Davion, a 19 year old, one of the several young men that performed in my husband’s production Buckworld One. For several years, Davion and a number of other teenage African-American boys were a significant part of our lives. When they had problems, which as you can imagine was often with this group, we were the first call they made.
I will never forget the call one evening, when the boys were the victims of a “home invasion styled” robbery in their apartment. Crouched in the shower stall, they whispered to the police operator that they could still hear the vandals outside the door taking anything of value while destroying everything else. When the police arrived they found the vandals gone and three scared teenagers trying to explain what happened. It was shortly after the officers arrived that the boys realized they were no longer victims of vandalism, but now seemed to be suspects in a crime that was committed at a cellphone store two weeks earlier by three teenaged boys who “fit their description.” That’s when Davion called us.
I admit, as I rushed over to the apartment, the only advice I could give to him was to keep his mouth shut. “Don’t say a word,” I said. The officers were preparing for an impromptu line-up and had already communicated with the store manager who was on his way to see if he could identify them. I didn’t know the law, but I knew that an “impromptu line-up” just didn’t seem right. Arriving frenzied and panicked and as someone who knows the top law enforcement leaders in our area as well, I acted impulsively and with indignation. That’s code for – I got up in the officers’ faces and demanded they stop immediately. Okay I admit it was more like threatened. I threatened to call the chief, the president of the NAACP, and of course I planned to write about it in the paper. How dare they, I thought. I believe I actually said it to both officers before they called off the line-up. My husband thankfully calmed me down while explaining to the officer that he is a professor and I am a publisher and I believe he apologetically said something about his wife not being used to interacting with the police.
I wish I had read “The 411 on the Five-O: The NAACP Real World Guide to Interacting with Law Enforcement” produced by the NAACP’s Legal Department and distributed by the Riverside Branch at the Blurred Lines Community Forum earlier this week. The forum, the first in a series of four events, was sparked by the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and its aftermath and is designed to address violence in the Riverside and Moreno Valley communities and introduce strategies to reduce it. The vision of NAACP Criminal Justice Chair Imam Terry Major, the forum featured NAACP Riverside Chapter President Woodie Rucker-Hughes, Street Positive CEO Terry Boykins, Dubois Institute Executive Director Dr. E.M. Abdulmumin, UCR Professor of Psychology Dr. Carolyn Murray, and Crisis Intervention Specialist Aquil Basheer.
The goal, Imam Major stated in his opening remarks, is to develop a sophisticated and intelligent conversation around the issues of race and violence in this community and develop prevention strategies. The first event was designed to start from within, identifying the problems and suggesting solutions. The second event is a production of the play Dreamscape followed-up by a talkback and conversation with our youth. The third will be a dialogue with our law enforcement community. And the final event in the series will be a rally for peace and an opportunity for the diverse community to fellowship together in the spirit of tolerance and peace.
At the end of the forum, there were four clear directives:
Focus on Community Parenting
Develop Education and Economic Strategies
Organize Around Public Service
Create a Platform for Continued Conversation and Implementation
The law enforcement guide is available to the general public and offers suggestions on how to reduce the probability of conflict when interacting with law enforcement in your car, on the street, in your home, or any time you are approached. Attend the next event October 14th and get your copy. Continue reading the VOICE for future updates and continued dialogue on the issue. Or contact me for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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