Tomorrow, I will present to the officers of the Central District at their roll call. I have a shtick prepared, the same one I always use, when I introduce The Inner Harbor Project to officers. I usually start by explaining that even if they’re just learning about us, we’ve been effectively collaborating with the Department for years. I explain how our Peace Ambassador and mediation programs are aimed at diffusing tension between teens. I talk about our Cultural Competency Training course, which teens developed to coach officers on interacting more positively with teens. I explain that this is very important because negative interactions between law enforcements and teens results in teen on teen crime, vandalism, theft and a lack of pride in the Inner Harbor and Baltimore. I was planning on talking about our success with the Inner Harbor Unit this summer and how together, we reduced juvenile arrests and incident rates.
Given the events that have occurred over the last 24 hours, I want to say something different. I need to say something different.
“Yes, we have worked closely with police officers to build a bridge of trust between teens and police in the Inner Harbor. But this bridge is very fragile. It has been built by the hope of young people who have forgiven injustices in exchange for this tenuous dream. Writing this, in my office, with their faces all around me, I am reminded of their courageousness. They have taken the first step towards trust. Wanya and Desmond greet Lieutenant Olson when they pass him on the promenade. In the next moment, they walk up to their friends and encourage them to be a part of our movement of positivity.
And officers have taken the first step as well. The smart ones realize that they are limited in their ability to speak with teens about these issues. The smarter ones realize that by treating teens with respect in the Harbor, they have an opportunity to improve relationships throughout the city. The smartest ones realize that to black teenagers, they represent oppression and they must change their role in order to create a just world.
On a good day, I am proud of what we’ve done. I am proud of the trust we have built when only two and a half years ago teens and police denied that we would ever get this far. (Last week, a higher up in the Department admitted that he never thought it would work.) But today is not a good day. Today, I am reminded of how fragile a bridge we have built. One misstep, one betrayal, and it will not be two steps back but five or ten. To have convinced the youth leaders I work with – teens who two years ago swore they would never be in the same room as an officer – that respect can exist between teens and police is a miracle. Each of you is responsible for protecting that trust and strengthening this bridge. If you destroy it, I fear all hope will be lost. “