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Fort Worth Students Sound Off: When Police Are Not A Reassuring Presence

Christina Ulsh
Jacob Hurtado and Edgar Ambriz

Where does the deep mistrust of police in minority communities come from? As part of our new KERA Yearbook project, we asked four black and Latino teenagers to share their perceptions of the police in their neighborhoods and school.

  In the days after police shot an unarmed 18-year old in Ferguson, Missouri, the University of Chicago released a study with some startling findings. Fewer than half of African-Americans between 18 and 29 say they trust the police. Among whites, the number is 72 percent. For Latinos, it's 60 percent.

We sat down with four 10th graders from Polytechnic High School in Fort Worth. They recounted personal experiences in the tough neighborhood known as Southside, along with stories they’ve heard from friends.

“I feel like police target African Americans and Latinos more"

“Some policemen don’t even like the job, they just do it to get power over other people,” said 15-year-old Edgar Ambriz. “I feel like police target African Americans and Latinos more, because they’re more likely to be in gangs.”

In any interaction with a police officer, Ambriz said he is wary. “He might look at me like I’m in a gang, but you never know.”

"It doesn't seem right"

According to a new study from the University of Chicago, black youth have more negative experiences with the police, and believe overwhelmingly that the American legal system does not treat all groups equally. A mere 44 percent of black youth said they trust the police. Among white youth, that number is 72 percent. Latinos fall in between, with 60 percent trusting police.

“You can’t say all police are bad, but some police make all of them look bad,” said Jaelene Ramirez. She says she was deeply upset by seeing videos of police brutality on Facebook. “I didn’t see the guy doing anything--he was just surrendering," she said.

"It doesn’t seem right.”

Jacob Hurtado recounted multiple traumatic experiences with the police. He and his friend have been trailed and questioned in the middle of the day while walking around their neighborhood. He says he’s seen people get forcefully arrested. And he recounted seeing a friend get arrested at a store for no apparent reason.

“The officer kneed my homeboy in the face six times. After he gave up my homeboy put his hands behind his back and the officer was still kneeing him in the face. My homeboy had a big knot on his head.  That’s one of the reasons I don’t like cops,” he said.

"My grandmother got Tased"

Keyonna Benson, too, had a hard time retelling the story of her father’s arrest on Thanksgiving two years ago. As a 13-year-old, she says she and all the other children were deeply affected.

“My grandmother got Tased, and they smashed my dad’s legs in the door. I was terrified. It was the worst day ever. My grandmother still has a mark on her arm from the Taser. They said she assaulted the police—but that never happened,” she said.

She now views police with suspicion and fear. “It’s like, ‘You’re supposed to protect us and give us peace, and you do this?’”