By: Krystle Crossman
At Howard University in Baltimore, Maryland students have the opportunity to take a class with Baltimore police officers to express their fear and frustration with how the African-American community is dealing with increasing police violence. Professor Dr. Bahiyyah Muhammad developed the class that brought together five community members, 10 students from Howard University who were black, and 10 Baltimore police officers who were white. The professor hoped to bridge the gap between the students and the police officers and give the students a chance to express their feelings about what has been going on recently in a safe spot.
One student, Bryana Martin, said that she felt very nervous when she entered the classroom and sat down next to a police officer who was white and had a gun. All she could think of were the images that she had seen on the news of black men being gunned down by police officers for reasons that she couldn’t understand. She said that she had a lot of emotions but she also had a lot of questions for the police officers. She wanted to know why African-Americans have been treated like animals in the streets instead of like human beings. Martin said that she felt a lot of tension just being in the room with these police officers because of everything that is been happening lately. She said she’s been watching her community become more intimidated and more fearful because of increased police violence that is shown on the media.
The police officers felt that it was extremely enlightening to be in a room with the students to hear about how they were feeling. They said that it was a great opportunity to hear the concerns of the younger generation in a place where they felt they could be safe. The class took field trips to different spots such as the corner where Freddie Gray ultimately died during an arrest. Some of the students went on a ride alongs with the police officers so that they could see exactly what happened during their shifts. Martin stated that she felt that the police were being fake when they explained what had happened on the day that Freddie Gray died and that she wasn’t moved by anything that they had said to her.
One of the students in the classroom named Chantel Smith grew up in a law-enforcement family. She said that she wants to focus her education on community policing because she feels that it is a very important part of an officers day. Police officers joining the community helps to build trust between the officer and those that they are serving to protect. Smith stated that she was able to gain a new perspective into law-enforcement and the African-American community. She said that even though she has had a great experience with law-enforcement through the years that doesn’t mean that everyone does and that there are people who are afraid of just walking down the street because of the color of their skin.
One of the biggest lessons that came from the class was a simulation where the students got to pretend that they were police officers. They were put into situations where a suspect suddenly became violent and they had to decide whether they were going to shoot that suspect or not. Many of them didn’t realize how difficult that this situation was going to be. Some of them shot the suspect because they felt that they were in danger. Some of them chose not to shoot and ended up getting shot themselves. They were able to see the real life split-second decisions that officers had to make when someone was coming at them or seemingly pulling a gun.
One of the officers said at the end of the day they realize that the students have a real fear of being African-American and being around white police officers. They would like to educate more students on the day-to-day life of a police officer so that the students can put themselves in their shoes and really see that their jobs are dangerous and they just want to go home to their families too. One of the officers felt that many of the students in the classroom were going off of what they had seen on the media so they automatically thought that all police officers were bad and couldn’t open their minds to see that there are great officers out there.