In Oakland, The Disconnect Between Youth And Police

by Joi Smith
Also Featured on Morning Edition
12.05.14
12.05.14

Oakland has a long history of tensions between police and the community. So much, in fact, that the Oakland Police Department is under federal oversight for its use of force, and its reporting of misconduct, among other problems.

Twenty-five-year-old Alex Sipp says it feels like there’s no end in sight. He says in his neighborhood, he notices resentment toward police starting at a young age. “I’ve heard little kids point out the police coming down the street, for no reason,” he said. “It’s almost like a sense of fear, like, ‘Uh oh, here they come,’ instead of ‘they’re here to protect me.'”

We talked to Arnold Perkins, the former director of the Alameda County Department of Public Health, for the perspective of someone who was active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He said he understands why people are reacting and taking it to the streets. But he believes both protesters and police have to hear each other out. Protests have turned violent in Oakland, and Perkins had been hoping for a more productive outcome.

“What would happen if the group would have marched down to the police station, and contacted the chief before, and said ‘We wanted to sit down and have a conversation’,” he remarked. “We keep doing the same — tearing up our city. It leads us nowhere but more anger and more frustration.”

Olis Simmons is the founding CEO of East Oakland community organization Youth Uprising. She thinks Oakland can be a leader in raising a national dialogue about racial justice and relationships with police. “Holding young people who are at the epicenter of violence dearest to my heart has created a place where I’ve had to be in dialogue with the police department…about their leadership, about their oversight.”

Simmons brings officers to East Oakland to speak to the youth. She says when police and community members meet face to face, it can start to break down the tension.

“It’s that ability to go beyond, ‘This is my job, this is my role, this is what society expects of me’ – to see each other more fully. I’m not as afraid for my life, or I don’t think that you’re going to just do me wrong. I know you more than your job, or your role in society,” she said.

One young staff member at Youth Uprising did recall a positive childhood memory of police. Twenty-four-year-old Kenneth Munson remembers a time when he was playfighting with neighborhood friends. Local police officers gave Kenneth and his friends boxing gloves.

“An officer named Mr Daniels, he would just come and watch us. It wasn’t like he got into our business, he just showed he actually cared. I think that’s being bigger than a policeman. A policeman is just an outfit, a badge, a personal opinion,” Munson said.

Here’s what I’ve noticed in my East Oakland neighborhood. Young people are angry with police. But we still need them in times of danger.

We should be able to call for their help, not just hope for it.

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