Good Comes From Bad In The Hartford Police Department

Rabbi Donna Berman

Rabbi Donna Berman

Last year in August, Rabbi Donna Berman helped organize a protest march over the tazing of a Hartford. Connecticut teen. Luis Anglero Jr., 18 years old, was tazed by Detective Shawn Ware. Witnesses believed that Detective Ware tasered Luis repeatedly for up to 40 seconds, but the investigation, which was digitally downloaded from the taser itself, showed that the taser was only active for a burst of 5 seconds.

Surveillance footage obtained by Fox CT shows the cop shocking Luis, who appeared to stand there with his arms at his side that summer night.

Luis was hospitalized after the incident, and charged with breach of peace and interfering with an officer. Emotions ran high as the Chief of Police marched with protesters. Prosecutors subsequently dropped the charges against Luis. The video is below, but the story doesn’t end there.

What came next, was Rabbi Donna Berman getting together with ministers and organizing a pilot program with the Hartford Police Department called “Violins Not Violence.” The program would allow for the police to give either guitar or violin lessons to children in the community. Violins Not Violence turned into something more, however. It turned into “Good Vibrations.” Rabbi Bermann and members of her staff talked about how music might be used to erode stereotypes and forge relationship between police officers and boys. After she spoke with James Rovella, the Hartford Chief of Police, Rabbi Berman stated that he dispelled some of her preconceptions of the police.

“When I first thought of this idea for Good Vibrations, someone said to me, ‘That’s ridiculous. Nobody’s going to do that,’ Rabbi Berman said. And she offered one more thought: “I’d rather die trying than not have tried at all.”

Deputy Chief Brian Foley couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. “Every positive interaction we have with a kid in our city hopefully outweighs a negative one somewhere else,” he said, adding, “We’re trying to build trust with as many people as we can. I don’t think law enforcement has done a great job with that.”

They recognized the problems, and they set out to do something it.

Good Vibrations 1

Officer Gamaliel Perez at the mike, as part of the Good Vibrations program in Hartford. Credit: Andrew Sullivan for The New York Times

Good Vibrations is a 12-week program that brings together 20 middle-school boys, mostly Black or Latino, and 6 police officers for classes on how to rap, and another class on how to play the guitar.  Scheduled for this fall, the program will accept to 60 boys and 15 officers

One Hartford police officer, Ted Sposito, said of the program, “People are afraid to talk to the police openly. There was a barrier that was taken down.”

The following video shows two officers at the rap classes. The fun part starts around 4:09 into the video. The officers look nervous, probably because they have to develop rhythm. They worked on it. The “rap” consists of the boys writing their own lyrics of what is important to them, and the police adding to those lyrics for what is important to them. Officer Otero thought his participation would help show the boys that officers are human, too, but he said he ended up learning more than he expected: “I was like, ‘Oh, boy. I don’t really have the talent for this.’ But it’s not about the talent. It was just about the interaction. We were all mentored. We learned from each other.”

The boys wrote some lines including, “Keep walking when the drugs are in front of you, ’cause they can make you do things you don’t want to do.” The class instructor, Khaiim Kelly, approached one of the officers and asked, “Now that they’ve expressed their words clearly and turned it into a poetic line, what’s an important word to you?”

The officers tossed out a few: pride, staying clean, humanity. Khaiim then asked the officers to write a sentence or two about those concepts. The officers wrote what became the chorus of the song: “I believe in humanity. I believe in you.”

Congratulations to all involved in organizing and conducting the Good Vibrations program. It is indicative of the necessity that police departments interact with communities in non-law enforcement actions. There should be programs where members of law enforcement volunteer one hour a week to tutor school children of all ages with homework. There should be monthly meetings with the community so they can communicate to police chiefs their concerns, and calls, and how officers handled them.

Police departments that get their officers involved with the community beyond interacting on police calls show good faith.  There is nothing we can do to reverse the harm of the past, but we can work on making the future better.

More on this story at the New York Times.


Posted on 07/06/2015, in Good Cops and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. This is how our issues with police overreach will be solved, by thinking outside of the box.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. yahtzeebutterfly

    “The officers wrote what became the chorus of the song: “I believe in humanity. I believe in you.”

    So beautiful, I want to cry.

    Would that “I believe in you” could become the police message to the communities they serve across America replacing the practice and message behind profiling and negative stereotyping.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Hey Yahtzee! I am so happy that Rabbi Berman has a try or die attitude, and that the police department was willing to step into the unknown and give it a try. The cops came up with a good chorus line, didn’t they?

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Brilliant move on the part of the police department. It can only go forward in positive motion! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Reblogged this on ShannonInMiami and commented:
    This is awesome! I can just imagine how much this type of thing can change all involved attitudes towards each other. Police have gotta understand that citizens are not “suspects!” People have to demand their police behave as we want, just as THEY would want to be treated because THEY are citizens too!!
    Next time they’re not in uniform they need to imagine who they are if they could never put it back on!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Shannon, it is amazing. I liked the video with the two officers. At first, they didn’t seem very comfortable, but to think of where the program has advanced goes to show that the more people get to know each other, the more comfortable they are with each other.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. LMAO I Just reblogged this!! I realized i’d clicked the wrong button while i waiting for it to post! I’m on my phone and its still confusing me! I wanna see what my reblog looks like bc i was just making a comment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL! If you want, you can go to the admin side of your blog under “posts” and delete it. Either way, I appreciate the reblog. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Omg this phone app is totally different, looks diff from the PC. But the only reason i don’t reblog is becuz I’m already here&so is everyone else i know! it’ll be pretty lonely for someone to go to my blog & talk to themselves! Lmao
        but its my 1st reblog so I don’t wanna delete it🙋😁🍸
        If anyone sees it they’ll know they have to come over here to finish reading it.

        Liked by 3 people

  6. Two sides to a story

    I think it’s a great move on the part of the community and the police department and a big improvement over no community making at all, but if it becomes some rote drug anti-drug and anti-crime music program, then it’s not going to keep a connection that deeply resonates with that many kids in the community. They need to get past examining the “rules” through rap songs and discover even more about the hearts and minds of both sides, probably accomplished by making music without that type of boundary. Just jamming together without all the prescriptive stuff would be good for the relationshipsand hopefully they’re doing that too.

    Sorry to sound like a downer but it just occured to me, thinking about my decade of experience sub teaching in public schools and seeing up close various drug and gang prevention programs happening in the schools that cops and community participate in. These have value but also have limits and and though every single child in the school participates, don’t always reach the kids in quite the way intended above elementary age – there are still some barriers that stay up with middle school kids.

    Doing rap together is cool but it can’t just be making up lyrics about behavior or decisions. Making art together on a creative level without the prescriptive stuff might create a far deeper spiritual connection, in my opinion. Doing some sports together might achieve something similar for the athletically inclined. The hang-up with any program with cops that is you might attract only kids who are either attracted to cops or maybe are “at risk” and recommended to a program. I’m not sure how you reach masses of kids this way unless you start drawing the program into the schools and try to run groups of classes through it.

    But inch by inch, eh? I’m a creative writer so I’m thinking from an arts-inclined viewpoint and of course I’m looking through the lens of public school or after-school programs, but it could be done community by community in some other setting. It would be cool to get all sorts of kids and cops together in various creative ways – creating cool stuff together whether art or music or writing or a technical or sports or nature experience. That stuff goes a long way to creating mutual respect and it’s hard to disrepect anyone you’ve had this bonding experience with. Hopefully that’s what they’re aiming for.

    Liked by 3 people

    • “creating cool stuff together whether art or music or writing or a technical or sports or nature experience. That stuff goes a long way to creating mutual respect and it’s hard to disrepect anyone you’ve had this bonding experience with. Hopefully that’s what they’re aiming for”

      yeah that sounds like what i imagined it was like. not just ‘drug, etc.stuff’
      but normal everyday type stuff. the basis of humanity.
      the police aren’t the military, they’re just public service members, and sometimes they deal with crimes while they’re working with & assisting the public. so they should “BE IN & WITHIN” the community.

      The boys scouts were serving snacks & drinks at the neighborhood fireworks thing.
      The police could do things like that.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Two sides, I understand and agree. I’m putting something personal out here — my late husband left law enforcement because he found that he was spending too much time with other officers playing poker. Thinking back on that, it seems that as police officers, they are really confined to what they can do when not on duty, and they don’t want to mingle with people outside of their own families who are not in law enforcement. Some of the things I heard them express was how guys thought if they befriended them, then could always ask for favors.

      There are community programs, and even school events where they can mingle and get involved to build a bridge with the community. It just might help them too, to feel human again.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. What an excellent ending to this story. Congrats to Hartford. Hugs, Barbara May Peace Prevail.


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