Closing the Gap:
A summit between police and youth leaders in Baltimore City
Last Thursday, youth leaders from the Inner Harbor Project sat down with fifty Baltimore City police officers. Lieutenant Steve Olson, the commander of the Inner Harbor Unit, had a vision for the evening. He wanted to prove that the gap between police and youth is narrower than people think. So he made sure that everyone in the room had something in common: they all graduated from a Baltimore City public high schools.
After hours at Lexington Market, the room was packed with young people and officers sharing tables and Faidley’s crab dip. Olson began by asking that everyone play six degrees of separation with the people they didn’t know – kids had to talk to cops and cops had to talk to kids. The group with the least degrees of separation won.
Afterwards, visitors heard presentations from co-founders, Celia Neustadt and Diamond Sampson, about the history of Inner Harbor Project and its mission. Adrian Hughes, youth executive leader of the cultural competency training team, followed with a description of the training youth leaders had designed.
After the presentations, Olson got everyone’s attention to discuss the true purpose of the meeting. The Inner Harbor Project had just gotten permission to teach the police training at the Academy, meaning IHP could impact the behavior of police officers all over the city, not just the Inner Harbor. Olson’s plea to those present was to work together with the youth leaders of the Inner Harbor Project to teach the training together, to demonstrate the strong foundation youth and police have already built. He asked that interested officers leave their name tags by the door on the way out. Needless to say, everyone left their name tags.
The Washington Post’s Peter Hermann covered the event.
From his feature on the front page of the Metro section of today’s Washington Post <http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/baltimore-police-use-inner-harbor-project-to-forge-bond-with-teenagers/2015/03/29/a9c81912-d24a-11e4-ab77-9646eea6a4c7_story.html> ,
“Getting to know ‘those kids’
Police and black youths have long eyed one another suspiciously at Baltimore’s most famous tourist spot. Can the Inner Harbor Project turn that around?”
“The Inner Harbor Project was launched […] by Celia Neustadt, a 2008 graduate of Baltimore City College high school, where she was one of a couple white students in a class of about 400. Begun as a way to spark conversation, the group is now leading it. Hood2Harbor peace ambassadors blend in with crowds to watch for trouble. In the coming months, these high school students will teach recruits at the police academy how to talk to young people. Teens monitor social media to defuse disputes before combatants end up at the harbor.
“If I were like a cop, they wouldn’t listen,” said Cheo Thomas, 18, who graduated from Edmondson-Westside High School last year and now mediates disputes among youths that crop up on social media. He said the teens do listen. “It’s us talking to them,” he said,
During last week’s meeting, students and police gathered at Lexington Market, a maze of covered food stalls on the west side of downtown, where they gazed at a bulletin board covered with photos of themselves next to pictures of police officers when they attended Baltimore high schools. They agreed the atmosphere at the harbor has become more welcoming.
“We were once students like yourselves,” said Lt. Steven Olson, who heads the Inner Harbor unit.
He said his fellow officers used to refer to youth coming to the harbor as “those kids.” He told the group, “I started watching ‘those kids.’ Instead of confronting them, I talked to them.”
He saw young couples holding hands, splurging on food, just hanging out. “Those kids were awesome,” Olson said. He learned many came to escape their own dangerous neighborhoods. “They come to the harbor because it is safe.”
Read more about our night in the Washington Post.
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