In the aftermath of the recent shootings of unarmed black men and the subsequent deaths of police officers in the process, people are wondering how to build a healthy relationship between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to serve. Instead of waiting for another fatal encounter to engage in mass demonstrations of legitimate discontent, they want action now.
Brenda Naomi Rosenberg, a longtime activist in Metro Detroit, says she has an answer. That answer, she says, is found in a new program called Hate 2 Hope, created to confront the negative images of law enforcement and disenfranchised members of the community.
“There is both police brutality and resident aggression. This is everyone’s problem,” Rosenberg said.
The program established last year is a 10-week engagement between students and law enforcement executives with the goal of addressing misconceptions about police work as well as hearing from young people about their concerns regarding the police.
“Hate 2 Hope offers a pathway to reconnect and some cases connect for the first time youth, educators and law enforcement,” Rosenberg explained. “Our program successfully deconstructs the negative narratives on all sides, builds trust and empowers the participants to create new solutions that benefit all stakeholders.”
To put the program to a test and gauge its impact, Rosenberg said she had to reach out to a number of police chiefs. The first top law enforcement official who responded to the concept was Roseville Police Chief James Berlin.
On Jan. 7, the Roseville Police Department participated in the intensive seminar program with about 20 students at Roseville High School.
“I think it’s a great program that allows us to interact with the community,” Berlin said. “It was a win-win for our police department because the young people in the program are our kids.”
Roseville has a 14 percent African-American population, according to the U.S. Census.
Rosenberg said no topics are off-limits during the open forums with the students. Topics included mass incarceration, lack of diversity in law enforcement and the growing tension between law enforcement and communities.
“A lot of time we are dealing with negative things on the job. This was positive interacting with the students and hearing from them about how they feel about what we do was important,” said Detective Brad McKenzie of the Roseville Police Department, who took the students on a tour of the station.
One of the participants is Miriam Logan, a senior who saw the program as key to understanding how police officers operate.
“I feel like the program was an important experience for me because it allowed me to understand how hard the job of officers are,” Logan said. “It also made me understand how to work with them.”
Morgan Barbret, 17, who just graduated, said the program helped her appreciate the diversity that students from different backgrounds bring in their experiences dealing with police.
“It was an opportunity to hear perspectives from a diverse group of students,” Barbret said. “Because we all have different upbringing and it was good to hear from a set of students expressing different viewpoints.”
Principal Peter Hedemark said he was happy to have his school serve as a testing ground for the program.
“I think it was an opportunity to start a dialogue that is really important and it should be ongoing,” Hedemark said.
Assistant Principal Monica Gabriel agreed.
“The kids had an honest conversation and saw each other in a different view.”
Detroit FBI director David Gelios also took part, presenting the students with a certificate at the end of the program on March 15.
“The program furthers understanding and trust of law enforcement among kids, many of whom have never encountered FBI Agents or police officers before,” Gelios said. “For many, their perceptions of law enforcement are unfortunately based on negative stories they have heard or seen in the news. As a consequence, some are fearful when they encounter officers and agents. By bringing kids and law enforcement together in Brenda’s program, kids get to see that people in law enforcement are just that ... people.”
For Rosenberg, the plan is to replicate the program in other area schools, including Detroit.
“The students experienced firsthand how to have the power to create change by building a new level of understanding and taking joint ownership in transforming relationships.”
Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson” on Super Station 910 AM Wednesdays and Fridays. His column appears Mondays and Thursday.