Often times situations erupt because of a lack of communication that increases the tension one feels as they enter a high pressure situation. Unfortunately, in certain situations the lack of communication between two parties has the potential to be lethal. This is the unfortunate reality for many individuals, primarily folks of color who have been harassed and even killed by police officers. As someone who has grown up in a crime-ridden area of East Los Angeles notorious for its gangs and drugs, I have witnessed on a police brutality on a personal level. While there has been occasions in which police officers prevent a criminal from endangering the community, I have also seen an officer slam a youth’s face against the fence for no legitimate reason other than their physical appearance. It is these types of the occurrences where the heart of the problem seemed to be at least one of the parties had failed to articulate a key point in the interaction.
Seeing this play out so many times before, myself along with two childhood friends decided that we had seen enough of our community members being mistreated for the basis of their skin. We grew tired of watching our childhood friends being criminalized and filtered into a life of prisons or racially profiled. As the central problem was a lack of communication between our residents and the police officers who patrol our community, it became evident that building communication was necessary to ease the tension. Therefore, we developed a youth-led workshop called “Through Our Eyes” that for the first time brought community members and police officers together in one space to discuss their different perspectives. The workshop aims to have participants from each group see situations through one another’s eyes to gain a better understanding of the kind of people they all are. In exposing commonalities among each other, we hoped that it would lead to the creation of sustainable alternatives to racial profiling, arrests, and jail. Instead of allowing situations to intensify to where violence is used, this workshop hopes to give participants the knowledge to communicate and handle the situation more effectively.
The “Through Our Eyes” workshop begins with an icebreaker that helps participants break the ice by helping them build common ground through aspects in their lives that are similar. Given the longstanding history of dislike between residents of the community and police officers, creating a safe space where both parties are able to comfortably speak their mind is crucial to the effectiveness of the workshop.Once the participants have a chance to warm up to one another, they participate in a series of activities that continue to help them get to know each other on a deeper level. The planned activities not only help them build a line of communication, they also help participants to realize they all have the same common goal of creating a healthier community. Nonetheless, the tension stems with the different approaches the police have to the community’s issues and what the residents believe is best for them. We hope that through each of the activities they slowly begin to vocalize their different viewpoints in order to have a discussion with opposing views and eventually find a middle ground to work with. This workshop has been successful in helping police and community residents feel a bit more comfortable with one another in order prevent incidents from ending in violence. We hope to continue to spread this workshop to different neighborhoods in order to prevent the criminalization of youth from occurring. Hopefully, this workshop can be a more sustainable approach to prevent crimes from happening all while fostering an environment that help youth go to college instead of prison.
We are currently working in collaboration with Chief Arcos of Central Bureau and Sergeant Vandersall to expand the workshop to different areas as well as work towards getting the curriculum to be apart of a police officer’s training. We believe in the Through Our Eyes workshop’s potential to help other communities similar to our own in communicating with law enforcement to have more sustainable interactions. The long term plans for the workshop is for it to become apart of state legislation and reach an even larger population and cement a new approach to community policing. Instead of approaching the problem of crime by booking and arresting people, we can spend more time building relationships with one another to create positive and sustainable solutions when incidents occur. Especially for such a vital demographic of youth between the ages of 12-24, starting a criminal record at an early age does not seem to be the best alternative to deterring crime. In fact, it has the potential to do in the exact opposite. For first time offenders who might not otherwise committed an additional crime, jail and prison can be a place where individuals can learn how to be an even better criminal””. For this reason, it seems wise for society to continue investing time in solutions that tackle the root of the problem rather slapping a bandaid on the wound in hopes it stops bleeding.