Duquesne University was the recent scene of an unlikely meeting. Twenty-five new graduates of the police academy and 40 young people met to discuss their perceptions of each other. The officers -- all white -- sat down with the mostly black group of youths for a frank exchange of views.
It's an exercise in understanding.
Because black youth are overrepresented in the juvenile court system, the meeting was one of many that will attempt to address the problem with respectful and thoughtful dialogue. The event was the result of a Philadelphia-tested curriculum developed by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and refined by Pennsylvania's Disproportionate Minority Contact Youth Law Enforcement Corp.
The federal office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency wants to reduce the number of young people of color caught up in the system. The plan is to encourage honest dialogue in meetings across the country between police officers and teenagers who can otherwise look at each other through a prism of suspicion. Because honesty is important, there's no escaping the awkward moments such conversations will generate.
In Pittsburgh, the Jordan Miles case, in which an unarmed teenager was beaten by three officers who suspected him of foul play, hovers over every encounter between police and young people of color. It is emblematic of the level of misunderstanding and mistrust that police and minority youth have of each other.
The best thing about the Disproportionate Minority Contact program is that all views have an opportunity to be heard. Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper is so impressed with the results in Philadelphia that he wants all officers to undergo a day of training within the next year.
This is a promising start to addressing one of the stubborn problems of urban life. Talk therapy is good for the soul and for society.
First Published June 14, 2012 12:00 AM