D.C. police representatives and students from around the area met at Eastern High School for a youth summit to have a conversation about policing.
The summit, called “Elevating Youth Voices,” was created by D.C. police and George Washington University’s Rethinking DC Youth and Policing Program. It consisted of a day of conversations between young people and police officers, and gave young people a chance to ask questions and share their perspectives.
D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee said the purpose of the summit is to give young people a chance for their opinions to be heard.
“We’re having these conversations about youth but what I see missing oftentimes are the youth — the voice of the youth,” Contee told students.
After opening speeches, students broke off into groups to discuss their opinions on policing and the changes they would like to make. After the group sessions, the students presented their opinions in a presentation.
One high school student, Jordan Williams, said he would like to see police officers show more care in the community.
After witnessing police de-escalate a fight, he recalled: “it felt like the members of the community and people that were in the area cared more than the police did.”
Other students believed police need more training.
“I personally feel like cops need more training. I don’t want a police officer who’s uneducated and who doesn’t know what they’re doing out on the streets — that’s how people get hurt, it’s kind of dangerous,” one person said.
At one point during the summit, student protestors interrupted, shouting that police do not belong on schools.
Contee responded that he respects their opinions, but wants other students to have a chance to share their perspectives too.
“I want to hear from all the voices of kids of D.C. public high schools. I appreciate these four young people or five young people that have their perspective — that’s certainly important but there’s a lot of work to be done and the only way that we get there is making sure that we communicate together,” Contee said.
The shouting protestors eventually had to be escorted out.
“They are not really there to help people and protect people,” a group leader told Contee following the exchange. Another added, “We don’t want people to fear the uniform.”
If the summit revealed one thing, it was that a majority of young people have negative feelings about police – something that carries over into the city’s surge in violent crime, much of which involves young people.
According to a Washington Post report, two Eastern High students were arrested the week before for violent crimes. A 15-year-old was charged for murder, while an 18-year-old was arrested for bringing a gun to school. In addition, just a day before the summit, a 17-year-old was shot and critically wounded in the local area.
Police say that 24 juveniles had been arrested for murder over the past two years, and 78 were arrested for carjackings this year alone.
Que Wallace, a mother whose daughter was struck and killed by a stray bullet, joined Contee in the summit to reach out to the students and bridge the gap between them and the police.
“There are other ways to deal with conflict,” Que Wallace told the teens. “You don’t have to pick up a gun and shoot nobody.”