Targeting Former Gang Members and Improving Police-Youth Relationships

In Part Two of our coverage of a Tuesday Altadena Youth NAACP forum, we discuss a former gang member's desire to avoid police harassment as he lives his new life

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 6/17/2011

Another large component of Tuesday's Altadena NAACP Youth Council police forum, was a discussion on how to improve relations between the police and young members of the African-American community.
While a lot of the disccusion on Tuesday focused on society issues about race and imprisonment (the first part of our article covering that part of the forum can be ), there was also a lot of discussion about community relations in Northwest Pasadena and Altadena, and how to build a better relationship between police and African-American youth.
A self-described former gang member in the audience at Tuesday's forum asked if the police have permission to search him whenever they want just because they know he used to be in a gang, even though he said he's trying his best to do good.
"Everytime I'm pulled over or approached by police I get detained," he said. "Then they release me without a ticket or anything. This has happened to me a dozen times all across Pasadena. It feels like harassment to me because they never have cause to detain me in the first place and I'm out there trying to do good. I don't even hang out on the streets."
Oberon said that officers do have the right to search him for weapons if he's a known ex-gang member, prompting him to ask if he can be removed from the gang list.
"It's very easy to become known as a gang member, but very difficult to disassociate yourself from that," said Tucker. "I know it doesn't feel good but your association with gangs in the past contributes to that."
Wallace chimed in by reminding the former gang member to ask the detaining officer if they had a reason to stop him and detain him, especially if they let him go without a ticket. If the answer is no, Wallace said, request the officer's business card and file a complaint at the station.
"Just keep doing good and on the straight and narrow," said Oberon. "I know you don't like it but they have a right to stop you. Hopefully over time the decisions you made in the past will stop haunting you like this."

Another result of Tuesday's meeting was the realization that young people need to be educated about the law. A few young audience members pointed out that the police know much more about what is illegal and what isn't than the average person, especially young people, and therefore they felt the police should take that into consideration when dealing with young people.
Two examples of that that were mentioned at the meeting were when a person's Miranda rights need to be read to them and when a person approached by a police officer has to talk to that officer or not. Tucker explained when an officer needs to recite a citizen's Miranda rights.
"I don't have to read you your Miranda rights unless I've arrested you and I want to question you about the reason why you're being arrested," he said. "So it's important that you know your rights when dealing with the police."
When it comes to identifying yourself to police officers, Oberon added, a person's right to remain silent does not apply if they are being detained. If officers want to question the person they've detained or arrested beyond getting proof of their identification, that's when Miranda rights and the right to remain silent come into play.
"If an officer approaches you and you think you've done nothing wrong, don't just walk away," said Oberon. "Ask the officer what they want and if you are a suspect in any kind of investigation. If the answer is no, then the officer has no right to keep you from walking away. However, the officer might have reasonable suspicion that you've done something wrong, so don't automatically walk away."

Police and Community
Another issue among many that came up during the meeting was the gap between the police and young people in the community.
"When I was growing up, all the officers I saw were white," said Wallace. "I didn't like the police. Straight up, I did not like the police. So why am I standing here in this uniform? As I got older, I found out that there are some things I can do as police officer to assist and help and strengthen young black boys and girls, in this uniform. I didn't want them to see nothing but white faces coming into their neighborhoods. There is a mystery and a chasm, a big hole between law enforcement and the kids. There really is. And what we're trying to do with our youth programs and forums is to show you that we're not here to put handcuffs on you, but to strengthen you."
Saunders echoed Wallace's frustration at being a black police officer who sees that the majority of black kids want nothing to do with law enforcement.
"I'm always pushing for young people to get involved with us," said Saunders. "As a black man and a black officer, it saddens me that there's this disconnect between us and young black men. But whether or not you want to get involved with law enforcement, just get involved with something productive now."
The Altadena NAACP Youth Council, which organized and hosted this event, currently has 24 members and meets every 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month at 1 p.m. at the , located at 730 Altadena Drive.