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Black Teens Talk Race And Police Shootings As School Week Starts In North Texas

Bill Zeeble
Dallas student Jazkira Combs weighed in on this summer's shootings by police of unarmed black men around the country, and the ambush of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

In this series, The First Week, KERA's reporters are listening in on the conversations about race happening in and around North Texas schools. Today, what students are saying about the violence this summer: police killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, and a gunman's July ambush that killed five law officers in downtown Dallas.

Lataja Thomas of Duncanville worries about police brutality. The 14-year-old is also concerned about violence against police.  After the downtown shootings, her folks weighed in.

“I talked about it with my parents. They just said the world is coming to an end. You just got to stay prayed-up and all that,” Lataja said.

Many prayed after the shootings.  Jazkira Combs, who's 17, says the ambush also took off on social media. She joined in.

“I started to do hashtags every day for different people who’ve fallen to police brutality,” Jazkira said.  

She says the shootings this summer, before and after the Dallas ambush, have changed her. She’s a student at Dallas’ Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School. This summer, she worked at the Dallas Business Journal as a mayor’s intern.

”I’ve never been afraid of police as I felt before the police brutality happened,” Jazkira said. “I never thought if I see a police I just have a possibility of being shot today. But since everything’s been happening, it does kind of put a fear in you.  And so after the shooting happened I was pretty fearful to go to work. I didn’t go to work the next day.”

Fear of police is on the minds of a lot of kids these days. Jakira Green is 16 and a student at Dallas’ Townview Magnet school.

“I think that growing up in the Dallas suburbs, like East Dallas and DeSoto, you just learn to be afraid of the police - that they are someone you should respect and kind of shy away from,” Jakira said.

That fear’s even darker and deeper for Lataja Thomas.

“Because it’s like, y’all are killing people for no reason,” Lataja said. “And y’all don’t want to hear our voice and how we feel about it. Y’all are taking innocent people’s lives, y’all not searching through the car all the way, y’all just ready to shoot and pull the trigger.”

Dallas Police Chief David Brown understands that fear. Born and raised in Oak Cliff, he’s seen it passed on generation after generation. That’s why he was involved in a recent youth forum called “Let’s Talk.” Cops and kids talked one to one, so they could better relate to each other. Brown believes the effort builds a better city.

“So that cops and citizens can be safe,” Brown said. “We want to change their view of police early on so they can have a better relationship with us and we can build trust with them and their families.”

Kamron Medlock already trusts police. The 17-year-old is a senior at Kathlyn Gilliam Collegiate Academy in Dallas. Kamron works at Walmart where he always sees police on duty. He says the officers are just like him -- working people who go home to their families when they’re done.

Over the summer, he interned near Fair Park. After the July police shootings, his co-workers worried for him.   

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Kamron Medlock understands the fear many African American kids feel toward police officers. However, he does not share that fear and never has.

“You know, be safe, be safe, be safe. They were just telling me be safe out there, they were asking me, was I alright?” Kamron said.

He says he was.  

“To me, personally, I never feared for my life around a police officer,” Kamron added. “You know I feel like they’re here to protect and to serve. So I’ve never felt like 'oh my life is in danger.' ... I’ve never, ever felt like that.”    

But Kamron, like some other students, expects police brutality and what happened in Dallas will be discussed at school.

“I know it’s going to come up,” Kamron said. “Because, sad thing, this is probably going to happen again. It’s just a cycle.”

Kamron says this is just the world we live in. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.