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In Oakland, The Disconnect Between Young People And Police


Some people are also seeking a way forward, as we hear from Joi Smith of Youth Radio.

JOI SMITH, BYLINE: Oakland has a long history of tensions between police and the community. In fact, the Oakland Police Department is under federal oversight for its use of force and its reporting of misconduct, among other problems. Twenty-five-year-old Alex Sipp says it feels like there's no end in sight. He says in his neighborhood, he notices resentment towards police starting at a young age.

ALEX SIPP: Like, I've heard little kids, you know, point out the police coming down the street for no reason. It's almost like a sense of fear, like, uh oh, here they come instead of - oh no, that's the police. They're here to protect me.

ARNOLD PERKINS: We make bogeymen out of people that you don't talk to.

SMITH: That's Arnold Perkins, the former director of the Alameda County Department of Public Health. He understands why people are reacting and taking it to the streets. But he believes both protesters and police have to hear each other out. Protests have turned violent in Oakland, and Perkins had been hoping for a more productive outcome.

PERKINS: What would happen if the group would have marched down to the police station and contacted the chief before and says, you know, we want to sit down and, you know, have a conversation. We keep tearing up our city. It leads us nowhere but more anger and more frustration.

SMITH: Olis Simmons is the founding CEO of East Oakland community organization Youth Uprising. She thinks Oakland can be a leader in raising a national dialogue about racial justice and relationships with the police.

OLIS SIMMONS: Holding young people who are at the epicenter of violence dearest to my heart has created a place where I've had to be in dialogue with the police department about their leadership, about their professional development, about their oversight.

SMITH: Simmons brings police officers to East Oakland to speak to the youth. She says when police and community members meet face to face, it can start to break down the tension.

SIMMONS: That ability to go beyond this is my job, this is my role, this is what society expects of me - to see each other more fully. I'm not as afraid for my life, or I don't think that you're going to just do me wrong 'cause I know you. I know you more than your job or your role in society.

SMITH: One young staff member at Youth Uprising did recall a positive childhood memory of police. Twenty-four-year-old Kenneth Munson remembers a time when he was play fighting with neighborhood friends.

KENNETH MUNSON: An officer named Mr. Daniels, he used to come and just watch us. It wasn't like he got into our business. He just showed that he actually cared.

SMITH: That officer gave Kenneth and his friends boxing gloves.

SIMMONS: And I think that's being bigger than a policeman. A policeman is just an outfit, a badge, a personal opinion.

SMITH: Here's what I have noticed in my East Oakland neighborhood. Young people are angry with police. But we still need them in times of danger. We should be able to call for their help, not just hope for it. For NPR News, I'm Joi Smith.

INSKEEP: Her report was produced by Youth Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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