“How Youth See Police. How Police See Youth.”
In the urban landscape of Chicago, police officers and black teenagers engage regularly in rituals of stops, questions, searches, and arrests. Even during the most minor encounter, when an officer has a legal basis to search and a teenager is innocent, the interaction is fraught with potential danger. What exactly is happening during these encounters, and what are the consequences? How does an officer decide whether to search a backpack? Is there a safe way for a teenager to tell an officer “no”? Are these momentary experiences, discrete and limited? Or do they ripple out, affecting community and officers notions of safety and effectiveness?
“How it Makes Me Feel—Youth.”
Some advice from black teenagers on how to avoid the police: don’t walk alone, don’t walk in groups, don’t make eye contact, don’t avert your gaze too quickly, don’t move too fast, don’t linger, don’t do anything, don’t do nothing. How do teenagers handle being treated as suspects? If police exercise their civic power arbitrarily, how can we expect teenagers to participate in civic society? Do their experiences being policed circumscribe their emotional and geographical boundaries? How do they stay safe?
Margaret Beale Spencer
“How it Makes Me Feel—Police.”
Police officers play many roles in our society, as peace keepers, problem solvers, coaches and counselors. Officers are the first line of our democratic government, expected to make instantaneous decisions about the practical application of civil rights law and politically informed goals of lowering crime and preventing violence. Why is stopping and searching black youth such a popular law enforcement tactic? Do police have the resources they need to be effective? How do we measure success? Is anyone listening to officer ideas? How do routine encounters with black teenagers affect an officer’s understanding of criminality and constitutional rights?
“They Have All the Power.”
The Chicago Police Department’s record on accountability is poor. Black teenagers learn early that their complaints about officer misconduct will be ignored, either immediately by the authority figure they speak to, or eventually through a prolonged and willfully blind investigation that often results in a finding of “unsustained.” No matter the outcome of an encounter, the teenager predicts the officer will have the last say.
Should officers be polite during encounters? Do officers have the ability to hold each other accountable? Can accountability be considered a tactic in preventing crime?
“I Can’t Imagine Anything Different . . .”
We’ve asked black teenagers, can you imagine things being different? They often answer, “If I moved somewhere different.” Many view strained relations between police and black youth as difficult, if not impossible, to change. They see the status quo as intractable. Is there reason to believe that relations can improve? What do constructive youth/police relations look like? How can police and youth work together to build better relationships? What obligations must a government fulfill in order to improve credibility?
“Where do we go from here?”
The final panel, in which all panelists and the audience will be invited to participate, will be devoted to a discussion of next steps and prescriptive strategies for addressing the issues explored in the course of the conference. What would it mean to move away from a model of crisis management, and into routine accountability mechanisms - constant feedback from those affected by police, accessible and immediately translatable into action? How do youth experiences inform this future?
Sarah Macareg's journalism, at TruthOut.org:
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