Youth-police relations subject of St. Paul gathering

Community members ask how to keep Black sons safe
(l-r) Jeffrey Groves Jr., Shatona Kilgore-Groves, Jeffrey Groves, Sr. and Sheriden Groves
(l-r) Jeffrey Groves Jr., Shatona Kilgore-Groves, Jeffrey Groves, Sr. and Sheriden Groves

On April 7, about 50 people gathered with the Black Parents Group in the St. Paul Public School’s Multicultural Center located at Washington Middle School to partake in a discussion to help to mend relations between the youth and law enforcement.

bpg april 2015 youthIn attendance were over 20 teenage boys and girls, some with organizations and others with parents. Along with the teens were principals, community activists, and former Governor Al Quie. Police officers in attendance were Nick Kellum, president of Minnesota’s chapter of the National Black Police Officers Association, and a representative of the Deputy Sheriff’s office.

According to group leaders, this meeting originated from the February 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. “It’s just been one thing after another,” says the program director of the Black Parents Group Shatona Kilgore-Groves, as she refers to other events like the rally at the Mall of America, Mike Brown, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ironically, it was this same day that video was released of a South Carolina policeman shooting and killing an unarmed Black man during what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop. “We just feel like enough is enough, and we just need to teach our kids how to be safe,” Kilgore-Groves continues.

“I think one of things in putting something like this together, [is that] we always want to come up with some solutions. We want it to lead to action” says Jeffrey Groves, program director of R.E.E.K (Reach, Educate, Evolve, Knowledge). Groves continued to acknowledge that it’s important to allow young peo

A Johnson High School student was among the participants in the April 7 event.
A Johnson High School student was among the participants in the April 7 event.

While officers voiced opinions of the lack of respect by young citizens of the Twin Cities, teens voiced similar frustration with their peers. Young men and women spoke up about being stereotyped and falsely profiled.

One young brother from Washington Middle School summed it up saying, “Just because I have Black skin doesn’t mean that I’m going to go to jail [or] drop out of school.” While acknowledging that he lives in a neighborhood where gun violence exists, he alternatively chooses to focus on his ambitions and the good Black people have done.

Parents also spoke up, asking what their young Black sons could do to not feel threatened by police that haven’t even approached them. Community members spoke about the lack of jobs and training that young people desire, and how the number of unemployed out-number the jobs available. As a result, they said, young Blacks turn to alternatives, often illegal ones.

“We’re trying to keep them safe. They need to know their rights,” says Kilgore-Groves. “They need to learn how to interact with the police.”

Participants left the event feeling there is a lot of work to be done on both sides of the fence. Kilgore-Groves expressed the community’s point of view: “Nobody wants their son to be gunned down. We want to protect them.”

Khymyle Mims welcomes reader response to khymylewrites@gmail.com.