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Program works to rebuild trust between cops and kids

Students who participate in an after -school program at Hanrahan elementary speak with a St. Louis County Police officer.
Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio

Sixth grader Jmarria Franklin of Kenneth C. Hanrahan Elementary School in Jennings says she didn’t have a good opinion about police after Michael Brown’s death.

“I thought they were kind of bad because when the Michael Brown situation had happened everybody started hating police and stuff because he got shot for no reason,” she said.

The shooting death of Michael Brown exposed mistrust between minority communities and police officers. It’s a mistrust that only grew for some children following the incident. An after-school program run by Provident Counseling is working to rebuild trust between youth and police.

After Michael Brown was shot, Jazminique Holley said many of the children she works in her Provident after-school program were terrified of police.

“I would constantly hear my students say police officers are bad; police officers kill black people; police officers are mean; police officers are out to hurt us. And so for me that was extremely alarming because I saw my babies start to lose trust in local law enforcement.”

So Holley, a site director for a Provident after school program in Jennings, reached out to the county police to see if an officer could come visit her students at Woodland Elementary.

Since those started, Holley has organized visits at other schools in the district, including Hanrahan Elementary. An officer spoke to dozens of students at the school last week. Students spent an hour asking him questions about police dogs, how to become an officer and about why people get in trouble with the law.

Fifth grader Jeremiah Martinez of Hanrahan Elementary says the thought of meeting an officer scared him.

“Because police can slip a gun and shoot you or something like that or taze you or pepper spray you,” he said.

After hearing the presentation, he’s less concerned about police.

“Because they not going to hurt you (based on) the experience I had with him,” Martinez said.

Marva Robinson is president of the St. Louis Chapter of The Association of Black Psychologists. She says a lot of children have expressed fear like Martinez since the Michael Brown shooting.

“There definitely has been a lot of generalized fear and anxiety when it comes to law enforcement, so any positive interaction or healthy interaction that is done in a very structured format in a therapeutic environment in my opinion would be beneficial,” Robinson said.

Holley says she’s seen the impact these visit have had on students. She says when they first met the officers they were scared and hesitant; by the end, they are more comfortable. Now when a police car drives by the school her students aren’t struck with fear but wonder if it’s the officer who came to visit.

"The greatest takeaways for these students is that police officers are here to protect us,” Holley said. “Not all police officers are here to hurt us. Most definitely that police officers are not villains. They’re people. They have families. They hurt like us. They love like us.”

Holley says she’s working to schedule officers in middle and high schools in Jennings.