Police + Youth Town Hall Meeting Attracts Opposing Views

Police + Youth Town Hall Meeting Attracts Opposing Views

Gail Fry

Youth in attendance at the June 27, Town Hall Meeting with San Bernardino Mayor R. Carey Davis (Photo by Gail Fry)

A Town Hall Meeting billed to open channels of communication between youth and police in the City of San Bernardino was held at the Boys and Girls Club of San Bernardino on June 27. The event drew about 200 people, two protesters, and many of the youth’s questions remained on the table.

The City of San Bernardino enlisted the help of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids’ Police Training Institute, the Youth Action Project, and the Young Visionaries Leadership Institute to kick off a multi-day training session between youth and members of the San Bernardino City Police Department. 

A panel of local youth and police was seated at the front of the room. From the San Bernardino Police Department (SBPD), the panel included Captain Raymond King, Sergeant Shauna Gates, Detective Nelson Carrington, Officer Araceli Mata, and Captain Vickie Cervantes. Tyrese Collins represented the Young Visionaries Leadership Institute. And seated on the panel from the Youth Action Project were Darnell Collins, Lamonte Evans, Malik Collins, Emmanuel Lorenzo, Corey Gully, and Kevin Peterson. 

The program flyer obtained by The Voice/ The Black Voice News of the Town Hall meeting indicated a time for questions and discussion between the youth and representatives of SBPD, which became questions from adults in the audience. 

One audience member questioned the integrity of members of the local sheriff’s and police department, citing the killing of Philando Castile in Minnesota on July 6, 2016, claiming Castile “did everything right,” and questioning “how are we supposed to trust you?” The audience member also alleged off-duty law enforcement participated in the Anti-Sharia Law protest held Saturday, June 10 (demonstrations were held in San Bernardino and nationwide), and added many Muslims are African-American. The audience member compared law enforcement having a few bad apples to minority communities who “have a few bad people” on the whole. “Why should the youth trust you, they have no reason to?” The question was met with applause from the audience.

Members of the Community Coalitions for Change with the mountain bike won by one of its members (Photo by Josh Ramirez, Community Coalitions for Change)

“Just like any other human beings I don’t trust anybody until I get to know them, and once I get to know people, then that’s how that trust is built,” SBPD Sergeant Shauna Gates responded. “I think there is a misunderstanding just because we all wear the same uniform that we’re going to back each other up no matter what and that’s just not the case.” 

“I have been on a call where I have seen somebody use excessive force— that person no longer works for this organization,” Gates shared, explaining that police officers “in all honesty we become jaded. People don’t call us for good situations, I’m a human being.” 

“In order for us to trust and for us to gain everyone else’s trust we have to have this conversation,” Gates voiced, and suggested that, here in San Bernardino, “We need to start working on what’s happening now and start changing things and teaching the kids that are in this room.” 

Another audience member claimed, regarding law enforcement, there is a “line in the sand” and “they do what they want to do. It is extremely rare to see any accountability from any police department including the San Bernardino Sheriff’s.”

saying, “There will become a time when your silence is betrayal.” 

The two audience members then shouted, “Your silence is betrayal,” “no justice, no peace” and “justice delayed is justice denied” for several uncomfortable minutes. 

In response to the protests, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids’ Police Training Institute Director John Shanks explained, “I want to talk for just a minute about what we just saw and why we’re here tonight; with all the incidents going on across the country, there is a lot of mistrust, there is a lot of conversation that needs to be had, that’s why we are here.” 

“We want young people to be empowered to be able ask questions, we want you to grow and be good strong adults,” Shanks said, and explained he has been very impressed with the “pro-active things [SBPD] is doing.” 

“We are going to be talking to police officers about de-escalation,” Shanks said, and explained that all people, including police officers and youth, “all want to go home” and police officers just want to “be able to talk you through whatever you are experiencing and be on our way.” 

“Everybody in this world has biases; it is what you do with those biases,” Shanks reasoned. “Kids think different” because “science tell us” the adolescent brain does not develop until age 26. This is something that many law enforcement officers are not trained to understand.

From left to right: Rodriguez Preparation Academy graduate Valery
Nava, City of San Bernardino Mayor R. Carey Davis and Rodriguez Preparation Academy graduate Katherine Nava (Photo by Gail Fry)

"So, cops see a kid and automatically think he is bad. Why? I don’t know.” Shanks admitted. “Because we haven’t learned about why kids act the way they do, why they think the way they do, why they respond the way they do, we want to help share that with the police so they understand that better.” 

Shanks encouraged youth to sign up for the police training at a cost of $25.00 where they will learn how to interact with police officers and develop an understanding of each other. 

At the end of the Town Hall meeting, two bikes and other prizes were awarded to random youth in the audience. One lucky member of Community Coalitions for Change won a mountain bike. 

Community Coalitions for Change had a substantial presence at the meeting, with fifty members in attendance. The organization is a neighborhood group whose purpose is to build “strong relationships with local law enforcement and have meaningful conversations about reducing underage drinking and drug use.” 

One mother explained to The Voice/The Black Voice News the Town Hall meeting was presented as a forum where the youth could ask questions of the police and receive answers, and shared her disappointment that did not occur.

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