Student-led mentoring program sits with police

If Batman were real, 11 year old Janelle Prophete would like him to stop the police from killing Black people.

“I know it’s not happening in Florida, but the police who are killing Black people for no reason, if he could, I would like him to fix that,” Prophete said. “If the Avengers were real, I feel like they probably would’ve fixed that a long time ago.”

Prophete’s statements mirrored those of her sixth to 10th grade peers at the youth dialogues facilitated by communication arts professor, Antoine Hardy at the Biscayne Bay Campus on Monday, July 11.

Having conversations with police and the communities they serve is a good place to start in improving police relations, according to Hardy, who began facilitating dialogues between Miami Dade County Police and community students in 2015. The dialogues, he says, were created in an effort to spark conversation and open the floor to questions, specifically to students.

“Getting it out on the table is a good place to start,” said Hardy. “We’re doing these dialogues, of course we have ambitions and goals like helping communities and people to feel safe, but we also want people’s voices to be heard.”

According to Miami Dade County’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research, close to 5,000 juvenile delinquency complaints were filed between 2013 and 2014. Reaching students during the ages where they’re most susceptible to police interaction is an important part of the dialogues.

Hardy worked along Taisha Gauthier, director of the Haitian Mentoring Program, to facilitate a dialogue between Haitian-American elementary school students and Miami Dade community resource officers in the Hubert Library. Students in the community were given the opportunity to ask the officers questions in a relaxed setting, and get a better understanding of police protocol.

“Our community members are pretty afraid of the police, and I don’t think law enforcement was originally supposed to have that effect on people. I think that they are here to protect and serve us, and we need to feel that way,” said Gauthier. “In order to create that type of setting, we need to create dialogue so that police officers can understand the concerns of the community and address them, and the community can address concerns of the police officers, which are sometimes valid.”

Throughout the dialogues, students asked about bullet proof vests, the reasons for police tactics such as shooting for the chest when using deadly force, and how to de-escalate a typical traffic stop.

“I feel like this conversation helped me understand more about police,” said Prophete. “There was a lot that I learned. I’d like to have more of these conversations throughout the year.”

Role playing activities also highlighted the situations officers might face, to provide students with an understanding of the day-to-day life as a police officer.

“The dialogues are an awesome tool because it gives the public the opportunity to talk to police officers one on one, and get our input. For them to ask questions, for us to reply with any resources they would like to know,” said officer Stracy Devero.

According to Hardy, this mutual understanding of officers and the communities they serve is the biggest benefit of holding the dialogues.

“A lot of times, both the officers and the students will tell me ‘I know a lot more now’ at the end of the dialogues,” said Hardy. “It opens the floor to new ideas, which may lead to some solutions for the issues we’re facing today.”

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