Teens at a Baltimore church hear how to deal with police

Groups tell area teens how to interact with police officers

A two-hour summit opened Saturday morning with a call for about 60 African-American youths to move closer to the front of Shiloh Christian Community Church.

Organizers of the "Rules of Engagement" summit wanted to the teenagers to hear messages from police officers, a former state's attorney and a defense attorney on how to act when stopped by police officers.

"Make sure you have your identification," said Baltimore officer Charles Lee, a 22-year veteran. "It alleviates a lot of problems."

The neighborhood services officer then asked how many teens had identification in their pockets. Only four raised their hands.

In the aftermath of unarmed African-Americans being killed by police officers in various cities across the country, attention has been called to the way officers handle interactions with black residents. The deaths have triggered nationwide protests and marches.

Saturday's three-hour event was hosted by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., the Pi Omega Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. and the Alpha and Gamma Omicron Omega Chapters of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. Organizers said a goal was to reduce deadly confrontations between African-Americans and police.

Other panelists included former Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy, defense attorney Warren Brown, Baltimore officer Steve Perry and Baltimore County Capt. Lamont Martin, who oversees the Internal Affairs Unit.

The panelists had a unifying message for the teens: It's not us against you.

"I've been stopped a couple times before, and I have been scared, too," Perry told the group.

He also said that parents have created a stigma by telling young children that police will arrest them if they act up. That fear worsens as the children age, he said, telling the parents: "Please try to refrain from doing that."

Brown told the teens they had bright futures and should think twice before committing any criminal acts that might impact them as adults. He compared the teens to rabbits and police to foxes, saying: "You're the prey."

One father drew applause when he told the crowd of about 100 that too many teens are being raised by single women and that compounds community problems.

Some parents wanted to know how to handle aggressive officers and the dangers of posting information on social media.

Perry said that any person can request to speak with an officer's supervisor if an encounter gets contentious. He said that "a supervisor is obligated to come to the scene."

Jessamy, who served as the state's attorney for 15 years, said a small number of rogue officers have tainted departments across the country. She said its common for all people to be afraid when stopped by police, but not all officers are bad.

The protests and marches "are an indictment against the entire law enforcement community," she said.

She later warned the teens that they could receive an education behind bars if they make the wrong choices. "There is a full-fledged school operating within the Baltimore City Jail."

Linda Smithery of Owings Mills brought her 11-year sold son and 14-year-old daughter to the event. She said it's important for children to learn the ramifications from their behavior.

"Maybe we can fix something," she said. "It's about the pain we're suffering."


Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad