Cops N’ Kids Long Island, a nonprofit organization located in West Babylon, Long Island, has dedicated itself to connecting youth and law enforcement through mentorship and educational programming.
On Oct. 7, they hosted the first of three virtual events titled, “Our Voices Matter”, to open up a dialogue between themselves and young people of color on their thoughts on local policing. Through these conversations, Cops N’ Kids hopes to make changes to benefit the Long Island community by bridging the gap between community members and local police officers.
Long Island is the 10th most segregated metropolitan region in the country, according to a Brown University sociology professor, John Logan. The New York Times found that Black participants of a study were treated differently than white participants 49% of the time while trying to buy a house on the island. A Roslyn News article cites a Newday investigation that people of color on Long Island were arrested at nearly five times the rate of white people between 2005 and 2016.
With disproportionate racism plaguing Long Island and the current protests against police brutality occurring across the island and country, there is a need for community engagement. Organizations such as Cops N’ Kids attempt to utilize their platform to decrease the amount of fear young people of color have when interacting with police, as well as educate young people of color on ways to better themselves. Through mentorship by speaking to police officers. Most of the officers who mentor through Cops N’ Kids are people of color.
The police that participate in conversations with Long Island youth through Cops N’ Kids come from departments such as the SCPD, and the 1st and 3rd precincts. These officers speak to youth and encourage them not to fear officers, and that they can become members of law enforcement themselves.
Cindy O’Pharrow and Byron McCray are the co-founders of Cops N’ Kids. Through their nonprofit, O’Pharrow and McCray are facilitating three conversations over the next few days to better understand the feelings of young people of color on Long Island and their experiences with police.
“We need to have dialogue and we need to know what the community is feeling, how they’re feeling, and try to figure out why they feel a certain way,” O’Pharrow said. “If you don’t know what the issue is, you can never find the cure. So we need to talk.”
O’Pharrow also said that a reason for having these conversations with community members is to take what is discussed, and share it with the people who can make necessary changes.
“We can use our voices for the people who have decision making power and make policies,” she said.
Because the founders of this organization, and many of the officers involved with it are people of color, McCray believes their unique perspectives on policing minority communities is another reason Cops N’ Kids is an important organization.
“Me being a Black male living in this society right now; I’m dealing with the same things that the community’s dealing with,” McCray said. “Having the law enforcement experience and the training of an officer, we basically come at you from both ends. If you throw a question at us, we’ll be able to hopefully give you a solution to that problem when it relates to community and policing.”
There were some attendees of this Zoom conversation who felt that the issue of policing was a systemic one, and even though they believe dialogue such as this is important, the issues of police brutality needs to be fixed from inside the law enforcement institution itself. One attendee voiced his opinions that it is not fair to teach the youth to respect police officers if they are approached by one, and the officers do not hold that expectation of respect to community members themselves.
Throughout the conversations of policing and systematic racism in this country, O’Pharrow and McCray stress that this is an organization that focuses on the needs of the community, regardless of politics.
“It’s not about politics,” O’Pharrow said. “It’s about right and wrong.”
O’Pharrow and McCray hope that their organization, and events such as “Our Voices Matter”, will bring awareness to officers doing good work, as well as people of color who fear police, and help make changes to the community to ensure everyone’s safety.
“At the end of the day, we all have a husband, a wife, a brother, a sister, a daughter, a son, that loves us, and wants us to come home,” O’Pharrow said. “So, let’s try to figure out a way for us all to go home.”
The next “Our Voices Matter” conversations will be held on Sunday, Oct. 11 and Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 7:30 p.m. EST. You can register to join these conversations at their website, copsnkidsli.org.