Photos credit: Isseu Diouf Campbell
At a Harlem Youth Townhall hosted by Iesha Sekou and Street Corner Resources on July 17, 2020 at the Frederick Samuel Community Center in Harlem, youth members took the microphone to voice their concerns over how the New York Police Department is policing them.
The Townhall was held with Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City Police Department Chief Jeffrey Maddrey, Mayor’s Office of Community Affair’s Unit Commissioner Marco A. Carrion, State Senator Brian Benjamin and Manhattan Borough President Gayle Brewer, to discuss relations between the New York City Police Department and Harlem youth.
“Street Corner Resources hosted this conversation; we requested it and the mayor gave it to us,” said Iesha Sekou, CEO and founder of Street Corner Resources, a local organization whose goal is to enhance the lives of young people in Harlem. “He granted us the opportunity to have a voice with Chief Maddrey and with himself about policing issues. I’m very excited because the young people were at the forefront, they directed the conversation, they directed the activities, they greeted the guests, they helped set up the room, they decided where certain things were going to go, so that was a youth-led discussion.”
The first youth to take the microphone timidly was Frank, who recounted what he called a bad experience with the police. He was pulled over by a police officer who had his hand on his gun. When asked to remove his hands off the gun because Frank was afraid that he would end up being shot, the officer refused.
Larry, the son of a NYPD officer, and his friends, were harassed by police officers when they would go after school to a fast-food restaurant. Police officers would have them hold their hands up and empty their bags.
Peter, who had his first interaction with the police at 14, was encouraged to speak up during the event. He spoke for the very first time about the incident when he was chased by undercover officers and had a gun pointed at him. The experience left him traumatized and scared.
“That overall situation took a toll on me,” said Peter. “For a few months, I was scared to be outside late with my friends or even come outside in general. From that experience, that just made me not like cops.”
When asked what they would want to see, respect and change in the way police officers were interacting with them were among the first things.
“I just want to see change in the community with policing, education, local schools. I hope for better days with less violence and more peace in the community…” said Larry. “I want to see more talk with the youth instead of gunning us down or shooting at us.”