Tag Archives: police

Sometimes a wrong calls for consequences and not criminalization

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.20170607_030109_1

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Not so Golden Anniversary- Opportunity to Improve our Future

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In a couple of weeks will be 25 years since I was approaching my high school graduation and had to face the reality of gun violence that resulted in the death of two friends, Tyski Gabriel and Chris “Punkin” Sharper. In seeing many begin to share their resolution for this coming year, I’ve thought lots about Tyski and Punkin and their families. I try to imagine what they would look like, what their lives would be like, and how things might’ve been different for me.

I selfishly wonder what would be different for me because Tyski and Punkin’s death was yet another awakening in my challenging childhood and adolescence. In the days following, several of us adrenaline and anger loaded young men gathered with the goal of exacting revenge on the perpetrators and those who we believed contributed to the fate of our friends. I had withdrawn to deal with my sadness of their death alone and to focus on my part time job and going to college, but received a call from my best friend who told me of the meeting and when he’d come to pick me up. I wanted in and wanted nothing more than to avenge the death of Tyski and Chris. As can be expected, when we met we were poorly organized in how we would retaliate and after lots of talking, scheming, and emotional venting we eventually dispersed. For me I swung between being livid and relieved that nothing happened because I had managed to get a handgun that night in hopes of making a significant contribution and that wouldn’t happen.

I would end up being relieved that circumstances didn’t escalate further causing me to use the gun and I was also determined to find some way to honor Tyski and Punkin. After a ridiculous confrontation later in the school year, my principal, Mr. Henry Young admonished me on being a leader and called me out to honor Tyski and Chris by being successful in life and helping others. For the past twenty five years, I’ve thought of Tyski and Chris a few times a year and it’s always stood as a reminder for me to seize the moment, to do my best, and to make a difference in the lives of others. Though I’ve come up amazingly short in my personal life in many ways, I’m at peace that my life to this point has honored my friends as I wanted and as Mr. Young directed. As I look back at 2014, I realize that my work isn’t done and that I have tons to offer relative to improving life for those who are living in situations similar to that I was reared in. After taking a few years off from being highly engaged in community service, I look forward to upping my involvement in 2015. Surprisingly, I also find myself in a position to engage with law enforcement and communities that have historically had low trust for them.

After spending most of my life hating the police because of my perspective and how I witnessed them treat me, family, friends, and others in the community, I managed to also spend time advocating for families and seeing more inappropriate and dismissive action by law enforcement individuals which further disgusted me. However over the past three years, I’ve gained a broader perspective as a result of many close interactions that helped me view police officers as people and individuals. I’ve sat on a non-profit Board with a Chief of Police, established a relationship with a different police chief, partnered with police officers to find computer equipment for a non-profit, sat on a police hiring board (that was an odd feeling), played basketball with police officers (couple decent ballers), shot guns at a range with officers (that was fun), and even made suggestions for new cadets. Although none of my interactions over the past few years erase my past experiences with police, I have gained a level of appreciation that I never had and even more important is I’ve established relationships with officers as individuals and have seen some of them engage in communities to proactively discuss changes when necessary to ensure there’s understanding of how the police is perceived by the community and possible changes to address.

One might ask, “What does this have to do with Tyski and Chris?” To me, the stupidity that killed Tyski and Punkin stems from the same disregard for and lack of compassion for life that would have a police officer quickly resort to deadly force in certain situations and not others, or have a young man to thoughtlessly take the life of another within his community, or to have a jury not recognize or ignore that police authority doesn’t beget necessity to use any level of force, or that perpetrating revenge on someone that killed a friend is just as sinful and immoral as someone killing police officers who some might feel targeted and plagued by. I believe that if we face the same core problems that resulted in my friends deaths 25 years ago, fewer people will be in the situation 25 years later wondering what their friends lives would be like or how they would look because we would’ve taken action to still have them alive.

Below are my thoughts on practical actions that I believe need to be taken to shift behavior and accountability to improve the lives of all citizens and establish respect between law enforcement and communities where they garner the least trust. I intentionally omitted “training” as it’s very subjective and often used as a means to exonerate or refute blame versus build bridges and relationship. Likewise, I omitted cameras because they do nothing to build relationship or increase the likelihood that officer and suspect will treat each other as human versus serve to hopefully prove blame after something has already gone horribly bad. Hopefully each individual (starting with me) can find a means to see what they can do as individuals to improve the situation prior to or in direct alignment in speaking of the shortcomings of others.

Actions for the community-

  1. Vote in EVERY election possible. City and school leaders will respect your vote even if they don’t respect you based on any bias
  2. Spend as many hours volunteering in a classroom than you will in a bar at a night club or at parties (Go to any school where the help is needed)
  3. Spend as many hours reading with or ensuring children are reading than they will watch TV, play video games, or play on a smartphone/tablet
  4. Yes, I said it. Sorry, more often than not we know those perpetuating violence and crime and we need to face that those individuals are holding us back

Actions for cities and local law enforcement-

  1. Provide financial and promotional incentive for law enforcement to live in high crime zip codes and beats within the city (include in contract where possible)
  2. Incentivize staff with pay or promotion to include citizens from high crime areas on hiring and promotion boards for police officers
  3. Incentivize police officers with pay or promotion for participating in sports, mentoring, and other activities within high crime areas
  4. Don’t participate in the school system’s criminalization of children which is most egregious in communities of color

Actions for state and federal government-

  1. Implement background checks on all gun and ammunition purchases and discontinue sales of automatic weapons
  2. Provide rehabilitation and job training for perpetrators and connect time served with a financial remedy for victims, families, and society
  3. Reward grants to schools that encourage partnership for accomplishing
  4. Reward grants for things done in the “For cities and local law enforcement” section

None of this will change that Tyski and Chris’ families have to deal with their death every birthday, every holiday, every milestone, and every family gathering, but I pray we all engaged to make it better for others. So this year, I send my love and continued blessings to the Sharper and Gabriel families and I recommit to them and Mr. Young to continue to honor their lives.

Grooming Leaders versus Prisoners

Murder, armed robbery, rape, and assault with a deadly weapon were some of the charges being faced by the young men I spent time with yesterday (Saturday, April 26, 2014) while at the Sacramento County Juvenile Detention Facility.  I sat and listened to them, hugged and dapped them, talked trash to them, laughed with them, gave them pointers on exercise, played basketball with them, and just built rapport.  The time was huge in helping me to correlate many events and feelings I’ve faced as a child and as an adult.

As much as I hurt for the victims of the crimes these young men are charged with, I also hurt  and want for these young men.  For the most part, I related to their stories from my own childhood or from time spent in communities I’ve lived as an adult.  I believe love and structure will do so much more for them and society than punishment and incarceration.  This is separate from the justice, compensation, and help clearly needed for the victims of the charges.

Some of the young men reminded me of myself as an adolescent and I told them that the difference between me being where I am versus having to also struggle through the situation they’re in might simply be because I was a faster runner than some of the friends I grew up with and those friends didn’t “rat” me out when they got caught by the police.  Today, I’m frequently viewed as a clean-cut, no non-sense, up and coming leader in a Fortune 20 company.  And that is an accurate description of who I am and how I carry myself at work.  It’s also frequently assumed that I was reared in a middle-class house with both parents who owned a vehicle, benefited from a private school education, and was an A-B student in school.  All of those are incorrect assumptions.

Despite not liking what I heard from some of the young men at juvenile hall, I related to what was shared with me.   Minus most of the violent acts I could personally associate in some way.  Before the age of 14, I had plenty of experience with the wrong side of the law including criminal damage to property, petty theft, underage drinking, drug possession, and one near-reported instance of breaking and entering and attempted rape.  I was lucky in avoiding a police record.

The summer following 7th grade, I was caught shoplifting in a K-Mart.  Luckily the store officer was also a local police officer who recognized me as one of the better athletes from my All-Star baseball team and I was released to my mom.  At the time, I thought being released to the police was far better than being released to my mom… and so did my behind after getting home.  Less than 6 months later I was questioned by police following significant property damage to cars from rocks being thrown at a train transporting the vehicles.  There simply wasn’t enough evidence to establish a case against me or any of the other potential co-defendants, but again, that didn’t save me from my mom but it saved me from a police record.  The summer following 8th grade, I was shipped to Flint, MI to be with my uncle who was serving in the US Army.  Most of my childhood mates weren’t so lucky to have such an outlet.

Looking back at my poor choices as a child, I believe a 2014 version of me could very easily be one of the young men that I visited yesterday.  In contrasting my adolescence with the young men I spent time with yesterday and guys I grew up with, I found (non-scientific assessment) a few things of note.  1. To a person, they had an “initial” recorded contact with police before they ever got to their current crimes to get them in juvenile hall.  2. One of their early contacts,  was for something that my 17 year old son or others in my upper middle class community could have easily dismissed with a “low cost” attorney, 3. They remained in or were returned the same home environment and/or community following their initial contact with police, and 4. Having no mature or positive outlet to communicate and work through emotional and mental stress without drugs.  Other symptoms include growing up in homes with a single or no birth parent, low-incomes, failing grades, contact with foster care system, access to guns, and incarceration of family members.

Regardless of social situations and personal circumstances, we’re a nation of laws  and it’s absolutely appropriate to hold people accountable for their actions.  Thus I’m more focused on actions that can be taken to prevent or reduce the likelihood of children getting to a point where such serious crimes seem to be an acceptable option based on illogical thinking or external influences.  Regardless of the outcome of the current charges being faced, most of these young men will some day be released and it’s to all of our financial benefit (tax dollars) and personal safety (future crime potential) that their return to society is much improved from the life they lived before being incarcerated.  And who knows, maybe, just maybe they did not commit the crime they’ve been charged with.  As far fetched and unbelievable that might be to some, I had a personal experience of advocating for a young man in 2005 where the police clearly got the wrong person and a high school student was wrongly incarcerated for 5 months.

My hope is we (American society) will work more diligently to 1. stop escalating the criminalization of American children for minor crimes which typically become learning lessons for those above working class incomes, 2. redirect children and their families to community service and improvement projects that include counseling versus places of incarceration following “contact” with police, and 3. treat drug usage more as a mental or medical condition versus a criminal act.  Though, I don’t believe these steps alone will stop the criminal activity of all children, I’m confident they will result in more cases of career leaders and fewer prisoners.  Essentially, I think our country greatly benefits by having more 40 somethings like me who were lucky than to be caught in a rotating door of a criminal justice system that hurts tax payers, brings little to no benefit to our economy, and potentially threatens the safety of others.

I also encourage others to seek the experience I had yesterday.  I’m going back and could use the help of many others to do the same across the nation.