Good Comes From Bad In The Hartford Police Department
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 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 community relations, dispelling stereotypes, Good Vibrations, Hartford, Khaiim the RapOet, Luis Anglero Jr, Rabbi Donna Berman, tazed. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.