Mayor’s forum on race touches on police bias, role of media, youth voice

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's conversation on race included two Denver students as panelists.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock hosted the first in a planned series of conversations about race this afternoon at the History Colorado Center.

After Denver students across the city organized protests focusing on police brutality and race earlier this month, both the mayor and the Denver Public Schools announced plans to host conversations about the issues students raised. Students at more than 30 schools across the city walked out of class to contest two separate grand jury decisions that chose not to indict police officers who killed African-American citizens.

Today’s event touched on topics ranging from bias among police to the role of the media to how the city can improve race relations.

The mayor directed several questions at the panelists and audience and then invited the audience to make comments and ask questions. “Why has the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ protests turned into a movement? Has it turned into a movement?” “What’s the role of the media in conversations about race?” “What one lesson would you share with the academy class [of new police officers]?”

Police chief Robert White said that a lack of positive relationships between communities and the police underlies some of the current issues. “We have to come together and figure out, how do we do this together…and come through these healing processes together?”

DPS board president Happy Haynes said that during the protests, media too often focused on adults rather than what was on students’ minds and what prompted the protests.

Part of the mayor's panel on race, held at History Colorado.
Part of the mayor’s panel on race, held at History Colorado.

One panelist, a student at Denver School of the Arts who is a member of the mayor’s initiative on youth, said that she is now organizing a club focused on social injustices.

Another student panelist said that students want change, and that they would like more opportunities to interact with police.

Students wearing hoodies from KIPP, a charter school, asked the mayor what the intended goal and next steps would be.

“I hope the clarion call after today is that the entire community must lead,” Hancock said. “Denver has made a lot of progress but there is a long way to go.”

Hancock said there will be two more events in January and others later in the year, leading up to a citywide summit. 

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.