Several hundred kids filled the Winspear Opera House Thursday not to catch a performance, but to talk to police.
The goal of the forum, called “Let’s Talk,” is to encourage a dialogue between kids and police – to create positive interactions. It was the Dallas Police Department’s second annual youth forum.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown told the students he wants to make the city safer for citizens and police but that takes trust. That trust comes from heartfelt dialogue, especially in tough neighborhoods, like parts of Oak Cliff where he grew up.
‘‘They’re afraid of the police,” Brown said. “They see the police coming into their neighborhood as an occupying force. We come in oftentimes, we make arrests. So we want to create interactions when there’s no enforcement, when there’s no crisis. Like this. We hope they leave different.”
The first youth forum was held last year and worked. This year’s event was originally scheduled just a week after the July 7 downtown ambush that killed five officers. So while tragedy postponed it, the forum was still a priority for the department.
Brown started off from the stage by talking about his Dallas roots.
“So, I’m from Oak Cliff,” he told the crowd. “I was raised here in Dallas. I’m a third-generation Dallasite and I graduated from SOC, South Oak Cliff Golden Bears.”
Students appreciate the police effort to reach out to them. Still, many teens here, like 14 year-old Lataja Thomas, do fear police.
“It’s like y’all are killing people for no reason,” she 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 are not searching the car all the way; y’all just ready to shoot and pull the trigger.”
For other kids here, including 16 year-old Silas Cooks from DeSoto, there’s less suspicion of police.
“There’s no reason to be scared of the police because if you don’t do anything wrong, they shouldn’t be tormenting you or doing anything to you,” he said.
Trust is key, says Crista Walker. She retired from the DPD after 32 years, and now is the president of the Dallas Police Youth Foundation.
“We have to speak with our kids we have to get this right,” Walker said. “We need to interact with the children. They need to trust police officers. I don’t know how to convince them they can trust police officers except to get them to interact with us and to see us as human beings not just a uniform.”
This youth forum is just part of Brown’s broader approach to citizen outreach and community policing.
As he’s often said, the police need help from citizens to make Dallas safer. The police can’t do it alone.