OP-ED: Cops and Community, How to Repair a Broken Relationship

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Alton PitreIt is difficult to repair a broken relationship, one built on years of distrust.

It is especially tough if you are the parent of a child forever getting caught up in the juvenile justice system, knowing their kid can be harassed and possibly injured or arrested for simply walking down the street.

So how can we as a community come together to mend this problem that has damaged countless lives for far too long?

Growing up as a teenager in South Central Los Angeles, encounters with law enforcement were a daily occurrence. The police stopped me on the street many times without probable cause. I frequently had my picture taken by an officer before being driven home to have my house searched.

On one occasion a few years ago while on summary probation, I was on my way to get a haircut, walking alone after 6 p.m., when I was stopped by Los Angeles Police Department probation officers.

Nearly every time I had been stopped in my neighborhood, it was by these exact cops. On this evening, they took me home where they searched my bedroom and my closet.

They found nothing. I sat handcuffed on the couch of my living room when they told me these unforgettable words in front of my grandmother: “Alton, we see you all the time and don’t know who you are or what you are doing … but I can assure you this, we know you’re doing something and we are going to get you.”

About two months later, I was incarcerated for a robbery that I did not commit, which eventually led to me facing 46 years to life.

Why would these police want to arrest me for a crime that I did not commit? It seemed as if they were furious that they could not arrest me for getting into trouble. Why did that bother them so much?

As it turned out, several parents in the community had made complaints about the two specific cops who arrested me and about law enforcement harassing children in the area. The hatred had already been planted and we were just reaping the evil that had been sown.

All this can be fixed. But it means somehow repairing that broken relationship.

In Los Angeles, patrol and gang unit cops should be mandated to take part in community development and awareness programs before graduating from their academy or being assigned to a district.

Such a program should consist of the officers interacting with at-risk youth, present and former gang members or any individual who has been directly or somehow affected by violence or the criminal justice system. This would involve visits to local schools, organizations, probation centers, juvenile halls, adult jails, on field trips and weekend retreats.

webgraphic_Dmc_2This would allow law enforcement officers to witness the lives of the people they serve, building a deeper understanding of their backgrounds and struggles.

Upon their successful completion of these programs, members of the community would do individual assessments to determine their continuing role in the neighborhood. The lawmen should not be judged by how many people they arrest, but by how many people they do not.

In addition, people must speak out about any issues they have regarding the police. All complaints must be civilly addressed whether it is through social media or a complaint at a local police station. It is imperative that voices are heard in order for action to be taken. Neighbors of the community must be persistent in getting their message received.

Lastly, any law enforcement officer found guilty of such misconducts or brutalities must be held accountable. Equality is essential in providing justice.

Law enforcement officers must be held to the same standards as those who go through the criminal justice system. Far too many times our justice system has failed a community by letting the police off the hook when they were clearly guilty.

As human beings and citizens of this nation, we deserve better.

 

Alton Pitre is a 23-year-old native of Los Angeles, Calif. He is a juvenile justice ambassador, studies journalism at LA Valley College and was recently accepted to Morehouse College.