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Students Get Instructions On How To Deal With Police

As of next week, every middle and high school student in Akron will be getting a two-sided card telling them how to deal with police. It took two weeks for the anti-violence youth group PeaceMakers to come up with the cards. But they’ve been talking about the issue for months: Since the police shooting and subsequent violence in Ferguson last summer and especially since police shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland in November. “We the Akron Peacemakers were waiting for something positive to come out of it. Well, as you know, all we got was finger pointing and demonstrations,” Myia Culbreath – a poised 16-year-old attending the city’s National Inventors Hall of Fame High school -- told a City Council chambers packed fellow PeaceMakers, police and city officials that demonstrations aren’t a bad thing.

We the public had the right to let the government and law enforcement know that we were not satisfied with the way that things went down. We expected more.

Talking points More, she says, includes averting tragedies in the future. And that led the PeaceMakers to work with the Akron police to come up with a citizens’ cheat sheet. The advice ranges from the general (stay out of trouble) to the specific (control your emotions) to the practical (sign a traffic ticket if you get one – it’s not an admission of guilt.) And it tells people to document and report police misconduct. That part is important, says Billy Soule, the mayor’s assistant for community relations and a liaison with the PeaceMakers. "Individuals see that if they do have a negative experience with a police officer, they have recourse.” Toy guns and real trouble For Soule, the entire discussion is not abstract. In outlining the origin of the “You and the Law” cards, Soule recalled having “the talk” with his own son – cautioning the then-13-year-old boy not to play with toy guns.

I told him that many times, if a police officer approaches you and you have a toy gun, they may not know and may not realize it’s just a toy. I thought I was getting through to him, but his actions spoke otherwise.

But his son and a friend were spotted at Rolling Acres Mall with toy guns in their waistbands – at a time when there had been racial tension at the mall. A call went out to police; squad cars swarmed in as the boys crossed the parking lot for the Taco Bell. “Officers surrounded the boys with guns drawn and told them to go down to the ground. My son’s is alive today because he listened. He listened to what I taught him.” Soule calls it the “Tamir-Rice situation” – with a far different outcome. Kids and beyond Myia Culbreath says she’s discussed the topic beyond the PeaceMakers. “I have talked about it with friends, and most of them agree that the events that happened were kind of ridiculous and could have been prevented with if simple things had gone into consideration on both parts, the victims and law enforcement.” And those are the kinds of things the cards emphasize. They’re to be distributed first to all middle and high school students in the city. But Culbreath told the crowd that the PeaceMakers don’t want it to end there. “This palm card is for everyone in our community. Young, old, black, white, Asian, Latino, Christian, Jew, Muslim – everyone. In fact, we encourage adults to read the palm card and discuss with their teens and other family members how to walk away from a police interaction without it being a negative encounter.” The next step will be a booklet, due out this spring, which will dig deeper into what to do and what not to do during such encounters. No more Tamir Rices Community relations assistant Soule says the goal is a simple one.

Right now, it’s so important to us that we tell our young people and others how they should respond so that we don’t have another Tamir-Rice situation, so that another family won’t be mourning.

Mayor Don Plusquellic – active with the U.S. Conference of Mayors – says cities around the country have been looking for ways to help their communities and police communicate. He believes the PeaceMaker initiative is a first for a city – and is likely to be tried elsewhere.