Mon, Mar 18, 2013
By Aisha Asif
On a snowy Saturday afternoon, 16-year-old DeAndre Clarke sat quietly on the bleachers of the Tilden High School gym in East Flatbush – nearly a week after an acquaintance named Kimani Gray was shot and by two police officers who alleged he had pointed a gun at them.
“I seen him in person one time,” said the soft-spoken Clarke “When I found out he got shot it kind of shocked me to see him in that predicament.”
His father, Richard, had brought him to attend a youth seminar in East Flatbush to help teenagers cope with issues of gang violence and interacting with the police. It was organized by Councilman Jumaane D. Williams and Students Taking Action Today, a youth council founded by Williams’ office that sponsors forums and workshops to help teens cope with issues affecting their communities.
The workshops on gang violence, sex education, and domestic violence and ‘know your rights’ training on how to interact with the police had been planned for weeks, they held a particularly new relevance for the East New York community following Gray’s death and the ensuing community unrest that led to the arrest of 46 people organizers said.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on right now and there’s a lot of different forms of conversation I’m hoping we can have here today,” said Williams to the roughly 100 teenagers present. “Of course some of that has to do with how the police treat young people, how the police treat the community — that’s a huge aspect we’re going to talk about here today as well.”
Shanice Ward, a student at the High School for Public Service, attended the seminar with her older cousin. She said the seminar would give her information on the types of situations that can cause trouble for teens and how to carefully navigate them.
“It will probably give more [teens] information about how the cops see certain people, certain races – how they see them on the street and be more aware of the situation,” said the 17-year-old.
Kristina Agosta, a 16-year-old step dancer from Brooklyn Collegiate, said Gray’s killing was wake-up call that made her realize anything could happen within a moment’s notice.
“We decided to come because we wanted to show love for the person that died and inspire people through our step and the message we give in our step,” she said. Step dance involves using the body as an instrument to produce rhythm sounds and is mixed with complex footwork and spoken word. The high school sophomore said the workshops would help teens make the right decision in certain circumstances and to pay attention to how they might come across.
After Agosto and her fellow dancers, who call themselves Limitless Regime, did a routine while shouting about the importance of discipline and perseverance, Redemption, a not-for-profit youth organization, acted out a dispute involving peer pressure, gangs, and guns. This was followed by an interactive session with the audience where student members of Redemption asked attendees to comment on and suggest better alternatives to solving it.
“They’re in community environments that are not safe. They don’t know how to respond rather than react,” said Mary Walker Miller, a resident of East Flatbush for 17 years. The former substitute teacher said marches and resource sessions Williams has been holding for young adults the last three years to help them learn to combat police brutality and violence within their communities have helped youths stay safe and defend themselves.
Williams said, as an adult, he is not as aware of the troubles plaguing youths. He urged teens to reach out to him and make suggestions as to how he could better address their needs.
“Please don’t walk away saying this was a waste of time,” he said. “Please let us know what should have been here so the next time…we can have the right things.”