Sunday, June 4, around 8:10pm I entered the booking room of Sacramento County Juvenile Hall with a police officer, a good kid, and a load of emotion. I was doing a Ride-Along in Del Paso Heights with the Sacramento Police Department. There would be a roll call with an interesting trivia question and an insightful briefing and interactions to prepare officers to patrol. Once on the beat, we had a couple relatively minor calls with serious situations to those involved but not too serious in general. Then we joined a call where four people were already detained at an elementary school following an alarm going off. When we arrived, four young boys sat on the ground as two officers stood nearby and someone resembling a school janitor sat on a bench out of the way with a large set of keys in hand. Two of the kids appeared to be about the age of my eleven and a half year old son while the other two could pass for fifteen or sixteen. The officers were waiting for CSI to come take fingerprints and attempting to get parent information from the boys. The kids and officers had already been there for a while when I arrived. The call came in while I was with two officers who did an excellent job of facilitating an unfortunate and potentially volatile situation with a family who was duped into illegally subleasing and facing an imminent eviction.
When we arrived, the kids and officers were calm and one of the officers was joking about the sprint the other had to make to corral the kids who apparently ran upon encountering the police officers. There was also conversation initiated by the officers seemingly to relieve some of the fear and stress the kids might have been experiencing during this moment. I stood leaning against a pole looking at the kids and flashing back to similar situations I was involved with from my childhood. I was appreciating the kids were taking the situation serious while also comfortable enough to interact with each other and the officers. After standing and listening a bit, I actually sat on the ground with them to be on the same physical level as we talked about them, school, friendships, my kids, sports, and more. Following attempts to confirm guardian information and make contact, eventually officers came over to take each of the boys for separate one-on-one conversations on what happened.
From the discussions with the children, the officers gathered that allegedly the boys went into the Library and one of the children (13 year old) purportedly planned to take an iPad but put it back and all of the boys exited the building without removing property. According to the officers this was a 459 offense which per Wikipedia is, “Burglary…an unlawful entry into a building or other location for the purposes of committing an offence.” This was explained as a felony. As a Ride-Along, the officer I accompanied took the time to explain to me what was going on. The officers were of the thinking that the child was 14 years old versus 13 years old. I noted the incorrect age and hoped this would be sufficient to have him released to his guardians as there are cases where being fourteen carries more weight than thirteen. I pled with the officer to have another discussion with his superiors and personally pledged to serve in whatever capacity necessary to support this child during and after this situation with the hopes he would not go to juvenile hall. The incident and consequence was escalated and determined that the child had to be taken to juvenile hall.
My mind was very focused on the damage that was being done in this situation and the innocence of this child. When I was sitting on the ground speaking with the kids, this child in particular stood out with his manners and willingness to engage with me and the officers. Whether it was noting that his butt was hurting from the time sitting on the concrete and asking permission to stand, trying to understand whether I was an officer or not since I came with them, asking one of the officers “how long you been growing your mustache?” or pleading with me to say that he looked older than 11 or 12 because he was 13… The kid was a pleasure to be around without coming off as cocky nor dismissive of the gravity of the situation at hand. This good kid was about to take his first ride in the back of a police car and to be booked in jail for minors. When the officer asked the child to come talk to him that last time, it was obvious to me that that kid wouldn’t be seeing the others again that night and I got up and followed. After being told by the officer he was about to be taken away the child was confused, shaken, tearful, and very afraid. He spoke of his mom and consequences, he explained that he didn’t take anything, and he wanted it understood that he learned his lesson and nothing like this would ever happen again. Despite his genuine sorrow and all other factors the officer had to take him.
To calm this young nervous soul, I interceded and talked him through the situation at hand and reassured him that everything would be okay as best I could in this awful situation. The child eventually gathered himself and walked to the police car with me as I hugged him with one arm over his shoulders. We spoke some as we rode and I was able to get phone numbers for parents and make calls. At juvenile hall he was booked. Paperwork filed, shoe laces removed, draw sting taken from pants, assessed by the nurse, clothing and personal property taken, and a full body search. At one point while the officer filled out paperwork, the young man asked, “will they let me have a fidget spinner in here?” He was sincere and it was obviously a tool of comfort that he sought to help him through whatever was soon to happen.
After leaving juvenile hall and returning to the police car, my words to the officer was “This is wrong. At a time when cities and law enforcement say they want a better relationship with the Black community, this one incident has done far more harm than good.” This lead to a very respectful, open and constructive conversation. That conversation does nothing to help the current situation for that young man who was put in jail for that night. I do expect it to resonate at least a bit when officer is back on his beat again. The reality is that the officer did a good job of “policing.” When it comes to the rules and procedures, I’m guessing it will be found that he and the other officers did everything accordingly. However, I think a process that would lead to a child to being taken to a correctional facility after he took nothing, caused no obvious material damage, was prepared to apologize, and was honest throughout the process- seems to be criminal in itself.
Assuming the allegations are correct, my gut says this incident has taught all the kids that when you make a mistake (illegally entered and considered taking something), realize that you’ve done wrong (stop and put it down), and leave the premises that the full weight of the law will be thrown at you. So run faster next time because you’re likely not to receive justice. I can hear others countering me with “the kid broke the law and has to deal with the consequences.” To me, these consequences create an antagonistic if not hostile response to law enforcement. I also hear those that say, “they pretty much admitted guilt when they tried to run.” I respect that view might be the case in many neighborhoods or for many others. I also understand how that can be perceived that way and I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. I too was likely to run until I was in my twenties and managed to get somewhat established with work and marriage to where my fear of what I could lose weighed heavier than my fear of what the police might do to me. Living in an upper class neighborhood today versus my childhood, having a personal relationship with the senior police officers in my city and sitting on the Board for the Police Activities League, I still have to check myself and my instincts to flee for my survival or fight for my children at the thought or possible interaction with police. Simply saying “they” need to learn not to run is counterproductive if you haven’t explored means the individual (police officer) and agencies (law enforcement) can engage with the community long before interaction occurs with the community. It’s important to establish relationship and trust that can shift hundreds of years of fleeing for safety in these situations. And there happens to be plenty of images that suggest maybe a Black man’s odds are better if you’re faster versus what might happen if you’re apprehended.
At the end of the night, the officer was encouraging me to come on another day to see how things play out. He thought this incident may not have been a good example to take away. I let him know this incident and the others we had (which are worth writing about) are exactly why I did the Ride-Along. I plan to do more and I plan to encourage and expect the same from others in the community. I let him know that I don’t like the outcome at all because my ultimate goal is to help bring about a positive relationship between law enforcement and the Black community. This incident didn’t help that goal in my opinion. I also let him know that I appreciated his listening to some of my tips throughout the day on going beyond just what’s expected to close a call and look at means to help the person. I sincerely appreciated his professionalism in his work.
My first priority out of this is supporting the young man along his path to success in life. He was released Monday morning and is home truly facing the consequences of his actions. He and I have an informal agreement that he’s going to be a future prosecutor. I’ll be doing more Ride-Alongs. I’ll be hosting events to bring together law enforcement with citizens who are wary of law enforcement to establish some respect, rapport, and understanding as we look at the ultimate goal of providing better solutions. There’s many sides to this. Please get involved and make difference. There are lots of emotion, good kids and good police officers whom we need to encounter.