Forum aims to open dialogue between cops, black teens

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Educators, police and civil rights leaders are hosting a forum Saturday in which they hope to open a dialogue between African American teens and cops, and attract those young people to the profession.

The discussion, “Building Trust Between African American Teens and Law Enforcement,” will focus on encouraging young people to pursue law enforcement careers, teaching teens how police do their jobs and how to better communicate with them, and exploring citizens’ rights and officers’ power granted by the U.S. Constitution.

Research suggests minorities are more likely than whites to distrust police — a gap that must be bridged, forum moderator Eric Brown said.

“It’s important for African American kids to know about police officers, and for police officers who may not have had a lot of exposure to black people to learn about that community,” said Brown, former president of the Detroit Alumni Chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, which is presenting the forum.

“If you’re a cop who is going to patrol in a black community, you should reach out to black churches and organizations, and meet with people, so you know what you’re going into,” Brown said. “And black teens need to understand that law enforcement is a position of authority, and you have to respect authority.

“If you get stopped, you can’t go from zero to 10 in a few seconds,” Brown said. “Think things through before you take it to a level that’s maybe not necessary.”

Among the scheduled panelists is Darnell Blackburn, a former Auburn Hills and Michigan State University police officer who is a field representative for the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.

Blackburn also runs a program, “Be the Change,” which aims to get more blacks into law enforcement careers, which he said is crucial.

“They need to be the change they want to take place,” he said. “In order for anybody to impact the change, you’ve got be be involved. And in order for somebody to understand the black culture, they have to be exposed to it. So by young black men and women getting involved in law enforcement, it pushes the relationship, not just externally but internally because more of your white colleagues are getting to know you.”

Other scheduled panelists include civil rights attorney Godfrey J. Dillard Sr.; Michigan State Police Sgt. Dwayne Gills; Farmington Hills Police Chief Charles Nebus; Wayne County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Donafay Collins; Darnell Lewis of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights; Dirshawn King, assistant federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration; and a representative from the Detroit Police Department..

Blackburn said he hopes to “dispel some of the myths associated with law enforcement. It’s a myth that all cops are targeting black youth. Certainly, there are police officers who don’t understand the culture of the young black men — and there’s also some black youth who don’t understand why cops do what they do.

“White police officers who haven’t been around black people need to know not to jump to an immediate conclusion when arriving on a scene, because some things are cultural that young black men do.

“For example, if a young white cop from the UP shows up on a scene and there are two black kids pushing each other back and forth, and they’re yelling, and saying things to each other, it’s not necessarily an argument; that’s how they express themselves and are joking.

“On the other hand, young black people need to understand if a police officer shows up to a scene and gives you a directive, you need to follow it,” Blackburn said. “Do what you’re asked to do.

“Even though you may not be doing anything wrong, understand that the officer doesn’t know that at the time he stops you,” Blackburn said. “Follow the directive and then we can sort the situation out, and everyone can go home safely.”

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Opening a dialogue

WHAT: Building Trust Between African American Teens and Law Enforcement Forum

WHERE: Wayne County Community College District Eastern Campus, 5901 Conner Detroit, MI

WHEN: 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Saturday, March 17