PEACE ON THE PIER:
Boston’s Youth of Color and Law Enforcement Advance the Conversation and Transform the Narrative to Strengthen Relationship
Despite many positive changes in the city of Boston over the years, Boston youth of color still view police with distrust, fear, and a belief that the police are not on their side. To strengthen the relationship between youth of color and law enforcement, Children’s Services of Roxbury (CSR) is changing the trajectory with their youth development program, Youth and Police in Partnership (YPP).
“With the voices of young people of color, Boston’s first African American Police Commissioner and first African American woman serving as Suffolk County District Attorney, we have the unique opportunity to truly advance the conversation and transform the narrative between communities of color and law enforcement,” said Sandra McCroom, president and CEO of Children’s Services of Roxbury.
On Friday, September 20, CSR hosted “Peace on the Pier” at Boston Children’s Museum. Mid-70-degree weather, in a tent along the wharf set intimately with blue and yellow up-lights, current and potential stakeholders gathered around the blue linen round tables, topped with blue sugar-dipped fortune cookies, while enjoying a spread of hors d’oeuvres.
NBC’s The Voice: Season 10 Semifinalist, Shalyah Fearing kicked off the evening with a stellar musical performance to “Listen” by Beyonce’.
The program honored Boston Police Commissioner, William Gross, and Suffolk County District Attorney, Rachael Rollins, with Trailblazer Awards, for their pioneering roles in helping to advance the relationship between youth of color and law enforcement. CSR YPP Peer Leader, Lakeisha Harper, was also honored for her three years of dedication as a Peer Leader in the program.
The program also featured a Waterside Chat – moderated by WCVB-TV Director of Public Affairs and Community Services, and Host and Executive Producer of CityLine, Karen Holmes Ward – which was a dialogue for YPP Peer Leaders to ask questions about community policing and unconscious bias directly to Commissioner Gross and District Attorney Rollins.
The forum served as significant and timely given the recent incident where students of color from Roxbury Prep High School in Hyde Park, were reportedly pushed and called the n-word and “monkeys” by 16-year veteran Boston Police officer, Joseph Lynch.
“The children of Roxbury Prep had a horrible experience with the Boston Police Department; I am the face of the Boston Police Department; I will not stand idly by and wait weeks for an investigation without going to speak to the students, the faculty and the entire student body,” said Commissioner Gross. “We (District Attorney Rollins and I) realize where we came from; we have experienced racism, and while the investigation hasn’t come to fruition, I apologize on behalf of the Boston Police Department.”
Commissioner Gross said that following what transpired with the students of Roxbury Prep High School, he and District Attorney Rollins spoke over the phone about it, and while no one told them to go to visit the students, faculty, and staff of Roxbury Prep High School, they knew they had to.
District Attorney Rollins said that it was important to talk about it before moving forward, “if we are going to turn this around, we are going to speak honestly,” she said.
YPP focuses on strengthening the relationship between Boston’s youth of color and law enforcement. Youth who commit to the program lead round-table discussions and dialogues with Boston Police throughout the year.
Sixteen-year-old Brian Cruz of Roxbury, a third-year YPP Peer Leader, was one of three Peer Leaders to ask questions directly to Commissioner Gross and District Attorney Rollins during the Waterside Chat.
“Why do you think communities of color tend to have a continued lack of trust for police, and what is BPD doing to change the lack of trust youth has in police officers,” Cruz asked.
Commissioner Gross said that “community policing is the key” and that it was important for the Boston Police Department to acknowledge any negativity and not hide from it. “Admit that negative things do happen, focus on the positive things, and for God’s sake, work with the community to make a change,” he said.
District Attorney Rollins said, “The disparities and the discrepancies and the hypocrisies, we’re going to speak out loud about them because then communities start believing we aren’t lying to them and we recognize.”
Commissioner Gross and District Attorney Rollins said that moving forward, they will use every negative experience as a teachable moment and do something about it. They encouraged Boston’s youth of color to “use their voices of logic and not ignorance” in expressing their views on how they are treated.
Communities of color in Boston have a history of being subject to racism and socioeconomic disparities in the city. On a national scale, the news reports of numerous killings of unarmed black men and women of color at the hands of police officers and civilians alike – which often result in non-convictions – cause generational trauma that significantly impacts communities of color, and consequently leads to distrust in law enforcement.
“This level of toxic stress is magnified by the nation’s climate,” McCroom said. “Our young people experience vicarious trauma when they see Travon Martin gunned down while walking home from the corner store with skittles and a soft drink. They see themselves in 17-year-old Jordan Davis killed because his music was too loud.”
CSR President and CEO Sandra McCroom said that through leadership development and community dialogue with law enforcement, YPP Peer Leaders will begin the process of building trust, opening communication, and fostering collaborative change. “YPP is designed to tackle tough issues like this,” she said.
The evening’s Waterside Chat with youth of color and law enforcement was the first of many dialogues YPP plans to initiate throughout the city, to advance the conversation and transform the narrative, and strengthen the relationship between youth of color and law enforcement.
About Youth and Police in Partnership (YPP)
Youth and Police in Partnership (YPP) is a leadership development and civic engagement program that engages, educates, and emboldens young people of color (Peer Leaders) to become agents of change for their communities. Through dialogues with local law enforcement, elected officials and policy makers, and through multimedia platforms, Peer Leaders seek to impact community issues on safety, justice, and peace.
Founded in 1995 when youth homicides and gang violence was at an all-time high in the city of Boston, YPP was part of a citywide effort to convene and lead dialogues between youth and police, supporting a de-escalation of conflict in Boston neighborhoods.
YPP focuses on strengthening the relationship between Boston’s under-served youth and law enforcement through its round-table youth-led discussions, dialogues with Boston Police officers, and its annual “Know-The-Law” presentation. It serves young people of color ages 15-18 who have faced multiple adverse childhood experiences.