Dozens of students in Lancaster took evening classes Wednesday night on how to interact with police.
Students, parents and others in the community gathered in the high school auditorium for "Project S.O.S.,” which grew out of last summer’s police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Lancaster ISD Sgt. Alvin Johnson says he knew he had to do something in this district where 80 percent of students are African-American.
“Let’s create solutions on how to make better choices, what things are stopping us from making better choices now,” Johnson says.
Police officers, constables and attorneys led classroom workshops. Johnson was in charge in an upstairs classroom filled with more than a dozen teenage boys – juniors and seniors at Lancaster High.
“Basically what we’re trying to do is capture your feelings, your perspective. And we’re going to give you ours,” Johnson told them.
Talking points included the role of police, how kids see police, and how police see the kids. Dallas County Constable Roy Williams told the story of one night when he was a young sheriff’s deputy – not in uniform -- and got pulled over.
“I turned my dome light on in the car and put my hands on the steering wheel,” Williams told the students. “Now keep in mind, I was a cop. Dome light on, hands on the steering wheel. You know what that tells the cop? That I’m not a threat.”
Williams told the attentive audience that police officers have to be hyper-vigilant. And he hoped they could see the perils an officer faces each day. He told the teenagers they have the power to diffuse a tense situation by complying with an officer’s requests.
Jonathan Wright, who’s 16, worried that could still end in trouble.
“Put yourselves in our era as a teen like us when on the news you see a couple of kids your age gunned down for nothing,” Wright said. “So how do you expect us to feel safe or even comply when we know that in just a second I could be gone?”
Johnson stressed that Wright and his friends would have a much better chance of going home if they cooperate with police than if they don’t. Johnson told the students he and others just want to keep them safe.
After the hour-long session, Jonathan agreed it was helpful, and he's looking forward to the next one.
School district officials say the series of planned workshops will continue to focus on interactions with police and other authority figures, as well as self-empowerment and leadership development.