The atmosphere in the noisy, packed gymnasium was hesitant at best. The predominantly African American students sat in small groups with one or two officers in full uniform among them. “Officers! Don’t sit beside one another,” said long-time Community Board Chairperson Patricia Reddock as she scolded the crowd, earning a wave of laughter from all. The officers, now slightly embarrassed, move to disperse themselves among the adolescents. They all look expectantly to Reddock as the talks are set to begin.
The Community Board District 17 Youth Committee’s 2nd Annual “Rap With Cops” event in Brooklyn, headed by Reddock, was held at the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club on May 9. In attendance were roughly 70 teenagers from ages 13 through 19 and about 14 officers from the 67 Precinct of different backgrounds, genders and races. The goal of the event was to encourage youngsters to ask their own questions of the police without parents or teachers inhibiting the conversation.
They start introductions to break the ice and then slowly move onto role playing both ways. The cops are asked about everything from why shootings of young Black men always occur in this country to who would win in a one-on-one game between the precinct and the school basketball team.
With the controversial police shooting two months ago of Saheed Vassell in Crown Heights, the neighboring district on the corner of Utica Avenue and Montgomery Street, police response and shootings are at the forefront. District 17 comprises of 88.3 percent Black residents and 21.7 percent of residents under the age of 18 according to the American Community Survey from 2011 to 2015. The East Flatbush and Flatbush areas are made up of these girls and boys that don’t always have a voice. The community board aims to humanize not only the cops in their neighborhoods that they rely on to the adolescents, but the kids to the cops as well.
Joan Bakiriddin on the youth committee said, “Look how much they’ve brought the chairs together. How they lean in listening to each other. This is our second year with the kids and they remembered and came back.”
Once everyone gets comfortable enough the staff and facilitators sit off to the side to observe the cops and teens huddled into tight circles smiling, listening, paying attention, laughing. Even the disinterested participant has a chance to speak. After about an hour the groups stand to present what they’ve learned from one another. “Split seconds can bring out the worst in people,” said one teen as he held the microphone and attention of his peers. The teens talk about the uncomfortable topics and role playing so they could get into the headspace of what it takes to be a cop.
“We’re nervous too,” said P.O Maher, explaining how it feels to routinely investigate dangerous situations. He said with the constant supervision and body cams no one wants to make a mistake or be penalized for someone else’s mistake in another state.
Sgt. Bruno Pierre told his group about the instance where he was being attacked with an individual with a machete where he had to use his firearm. He said he talks to his kids at home in the same way, and hopes they learn from his situations.
Teen coordinator at the Boys and Girls Club Johnson Burrows said, “There should be more of these events. Sometimes you got to let people figure it out for themselves. Out in the streets, I’m not there to facilitate between the cops and teens. This way there’s an understanding.”
Reddock gingerly walks around to each group as some erupt in laughter or remain engaged as the evening comes to a close. Afterwards a signed jersey by Brooklyn Net’s Caris LeVert and student certificates for participation are given out as everyone flocks to the provided food and refreshments.