Town hall addresses problems facing youth

Aug. 15, 2014 @ 05:51 PM

There was no lack of passion inside a Durham church Friday afternoon as residents tried to identify some of the problems facing Durham’s youth today.

Close to 50 people joined together at Grace Church of Durham to take a different approach to addressing problems facing Durham’s youth – by holding a town hall meeting. Key factors in the discussion included addressing self-worth and relationships with the police force.

The group watched news clips from coverage of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, by a police officer. Moderator Kendrick Lowery then posed a question to one of the younger members of the panel.

“Do we trust those who protect and serve?” Lowery asked.

Simply put, Malik Anthony, a student at City of Medicine Academy said “No.”

“We don’t trust those who protect and serve, because I don’t think killing an unarmed person is protecting and serving,” Anthony said.

He added that in order to fix the relationships between the police and young black men and women, it would take “Superman” to come to the rescue and restore trust.

Jolil Smoke, student body president at Hillside High School, echoed Anthony’s sentiment.

“As a young person I feel like our trust has been betrayed too many times,” she said. “I just feel like we have to regain our trust.”

Assistant Police Chief Winslow Forbes was in the audience.

“I was not going to say anything,” he said. “The topic we talk about right now, police relations, should have a day just for that.”

Forbes said that during any situation, young people should listen to a police officer’s command, even if they believe it is wrong. Then, react by asking to talk to his supervisor.

“But do not argue with that officer,” he said. “If you start fighting that officer, now you’re gonna make that situation bad.”

Forbes said at the core, police are there to protect the citizens, and when an incident of police brutality happens anywhere across the nation, they take it seriously, because they’ll have to deal with it at a local level. He urged the young people not to lump every officer together. For every bad officer, Forbes said, there are 99 good ones. He also told the young men and women to join the force to enact change.

“If you become a police officer,” Forbes said, “maybe you can be part of the solution.”  

Candice Benbow, from Duke University’s Divinity School, was another panelist. She believes a lot of the problems stemming from police relations are institutionalized.

“As a sociologist and as a black person, I know there is a history of extreme policing in our communities,” Benbow said. “We don’t develop a distrust of the police outside of a vacuum.”

Now the younger generation is repeating the distrust many members of the older generation have.

“The institution and the structure of policing, of law enforcement has been extremely invasive in our communities in a way that instills this distrust,” Benbow said.

Lowery offered a sort of call to action to the young men and women at the audience.

“This is me,” Lowery said. “But I would rather you not get the last word, and be a punk the rest of the day … than for you to get the last word, and I march for you the next day and never get to speak to you.”

At the end of the town hall, Lowery collected a group of individuals to create a list of “10 commandments” for ways to move forward in Durham, which would be presented to city and county leaders.