NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly renewed alliances in Harlem Tuesday as he promoted a program to help improve relations between the NYPD and youths in response to recent shootings.
"Operation Conversation: Cops and Kids" was founded in 2006 by political and social activist Lenora Fulani, who shared the podium with Kelly Tuesday at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building on 125th Street. They highlighted a program they hope will thaw tense relations between police and black and Hispanic teenagers.
"Violence in poor neighborhoods has escalated this summer, affecting kids of all ages, including 4-year-olds," Fulani told reporters. "This is heartbreaking."
This past weekend, a 2-year-old and five others were wounded in a Brooklyn drive-by shooting. Last week, 4-year-old Lloyd Morgan was fatally shot when a gunman opened fire during a basketball tournament in the Bronx.
Fulani, an executive committee member of the New York City Independence Party, said gun violence has plagued city neighborhoods as a result of unemployment, a standard of living that produces a $25,000 annual income for families of eight, and below-average education.
"A great deal of work has to be done to stop the violence and illegal guns in black and Hispanic communities," said Kelly, adding that programs such as Operation Conversation, the police cadet and explorer programs, and summer youth employment can help stop the violence.
The volunteer Operation Conversation brings police and kids together in workshops, where they role-play their feelings. The workshops help dispel stereotypes and perceptions, and even result in a friendly basketball game between officers and teens.
"The first ingredient to a conversation is truth. Openly candid role-playing exercises can overcome stereotypes and build trust," said Kelly, who first observed one of the program's workshops in 2009.
"This training helps cops and kids create new conversations with one another through which they can see each other in more human ways," Fulani added.
Participant Joshua Brown, 17, of Brooklyn, called police in his neighborhood "the enemy."
But six weeks after being in a workshop, Brown was stopped by police when he jumped a subway turnstile.
"I was wrong," he said. "But I had no money to get home. In the past, before the workshop, I would have argued with the police. But this time, I was able to stay calm and let the officers do their job. We were even laughing and kidding because we were communicating. But I still got a summons."
Police Officer Michael Walsh said being in the workshop "was a wonderful experience, where you can come together."
"It reminded me when I was growing up in East Flatbush," he said. "I remembered the struggles of growing up in the inner city."