By Nicole D. Batey,
Special to the AFRO

The Children of Lanier Avenue Organization are inviting youth and their families to come out April 6 from 6-8 p.m. for a youth and police relations forum at the C.C. Jackson Recreation Center, 4910 Park Heights Ave. Dinner will be provided. 

The center, which is less than a mile from the Northwestern police district station, averages an attendance of over 100 young people ages 15-24. They come for basketball, football, fitness and other activities. 

In the past, organizer Mark Hughes has coordinated at least three to four other forums of this type since the early 2000s; this is his second one in the Park Heights area. He hopes to improve relations between the present generation of young people and law enforcement officers, and to host other community forums to help improve the quality of life for Park Heights residents.

“We’re putting this together [at the] request of the center’s staff, and we hope to have at least 50 attendees,” said Hughes. “It’s about building relationships with our young people. They need to see and interact with Black officers who care and dispel the stereotype that police officers are just occupiers. Also, there needs to be consistency with officers engaging our youth positively, and not merely to come after or harass them. Hopefully, this forum will help prompt that and we may even be able to get them to support more events at the rec center.” 

Hughes, a Park Heights resident himself and a former community organizer, has already noticed a difference in the attitude of police officers following the city’s consent decree issued in 2017. 

“Since the decree, I’ve noticed there are officers out here trying to make a positive difference. When pulled over for a minor traffic violation, like a taillight that’s out, they weren’t aggressive about it or trying to find a reason to lock me up. Instead, the officer was like, ‘Oh, I just want to let you know you have a taillight out. You should go on and get that fixed—I’m not going to give you a ticket for that,’” said Hughes. “Whereas before the decree, there were officers who were looking for a reason to search my car or lock me up when I was pulled over in this area.” 

The Baltimore City State’s Attorney Office, headed by Ivan Bates, will also participate in the forum. Hassan Giordano, the office’s Director of External Affairs, will share information about their internship program, and will be available to talk with the attendees one-on-one. 

“Under Bates’ leadership, we are looking for ways to bring our voice into the community positively and bring the voice of the community into our office to help enhance the livelihood and public safety of every resident of this city. This forum is one such way,” said Giordano. 

“Given the toxic environment today with police relations all over this country, we need spaces like this where we can come together, put aside our emotions and constructively deal with facts and laws…,” he added. “Our vision in being a part of this is to help provide information on what we do and the services we can provide to victims and their families as well as what these young people’s rights are and what they should do if they find themselves in a situation with law enforcement officers.”