Reimagining Change

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.

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4 thoughts on “Reimagining Change

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  1. Your workshop is brilliant and I think it could be used as a model across our entire country to end police brutality. I agree that it is important for the police to positively interact with communities because it will prevent racial profiling and create an environment where citizens can actually feel protected by the police, rather than scared of the police. While it is important for the youth to be in positive communication with law enforcement, I think it is more important for the police to take on more of that responsibility as they are trained adults who many have children of their own or young family members. Hopefully, this workshop will expand, and like you said in your post become legislation.

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  2. What an awesome idea! Kudos to you for getting this up and running in your community and for taking it to others as well. It’s a shame that the only interaction many people ever have with police officers is negative (negative experiences which range from getting warned about bad behavior, to falling victim to police brutality). I definitely think the first step in the right direction is bringing both community members and police into the same space in a context outside of policing. You wrote that the “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.” I’m curious to know what (other) measures of success you’re looking for as a result of the workshop.

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  3. I really enjoyed this post. The workshop you helped create should be an example for many more to follow, and I applaud you for your efforts to ease tensions in your community. You made an excellent point in your opening paragraph when you emphasized the importance of talking to one another, being on the same page. I believe the police force has in large parts forgotten this notion, and in too many cases sees the residents of the community it is supposedly “protecting” as the enemy, rather as neighbors, as fellow human beings. Workshops such as yours are an excellent way to reconnect the police with the community through conversation, through establishment of some common ground. As you mention, attempting to understand our fellow man is the first step in creating a better world.

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  4. This workshop sounds like a great idea that can lead to some positive change. Growing up I had several friends whose parents were police officers. Knowing these officers gave me an insight on what the lives of police officers are like and thus, I can see things from their perspective. It’s because of this perspective that I understand that while racial profiling and racism is a problem amongst the police in America, most officers are good people just doing their jobs. It’s important for both sides to understand each other and see things from each other’s perspective in order to bridge the divide that currently exists between law enforcement and minorities.

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