Lamphere PACT discusses police brutality with officers

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published November 29, 2018

MADISON HEIGHTS — In recent years, communities across the country have been grappling with the topic of police brutality. Looking to continue the dialogue, students in the PACT Club at Lamphere High School recently had a pancake breakfast with local police officers. Together, they were able to have an open discussion on the subject.

According to a report published this year in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, roughly half of the people killed by police are white. However, taking into account population sizes, people of color are disproportionately affected. These groups include black people, Hispanics and Native Americans. The research also found that the blacks and Hispanics killed by police have been younger on average.

Nearly 40 students in the PACT Club attended the event, which began with breakfast at the high school Nov. 19. PACT stands for “Power to Achieve and Conquer Together.” The two police officers in attendance were Officer Bernard Pace and Lt. Kevin Barrett. Later in the day, the students went to a nearby movie theater for a screening of “The Hate U Give,” about a young prep school student who witnesses the killing of her unarmed friend by a police officer.

In 2017, Jackie Gilmore, an English teacher at Lamphere High and the coordinator for PACT, purchased the novel on which the film is based for her classroom library.

“The students loved the book so much that I had to purchase a second book,” Gilmore said. “The LHS language arts department has also chosen this book to add to the 10th-grade curriculum. When the movie was released, I felt that as many students as possible should see it. The main issues are police brutality, code switching (alternating between two or more languages in one conversation), loyalty and activism.”

During the breakfast, the officers fielded questions on the issue, sharing their own thoughts.

“The officers discussed the fact that although there are some police officers that are inherently dangerous to people of color and others, the fact remains that there are more good officers than bad, and that there are good and bad people in every career field,” Gilmore said.

Pace was asked whether it’s more difficult for a black police officer in the current climate of police brutality against blacks. He responded that it can be, depending on where you work, and that there are some who feel that officers who look like them should always agree with them.

Both officers were asked whether it’s more difficult to do their jobs when the media depicts officers as bad guys. They responded that it can sometimes make things more difficult, which is why outreach efforts like the pancake breakfast are important for connecting with the community and fostering familiarity on both sides.

“This was a great event,” Gilmore said. “The students were able to interact with the officers, parents, former students and each other around a controversial topic that we are all aware of, but are sometimes hesitant to discuss. This was the perfect platform, as it was safe, nonthreatening and nonconfrontational. ‘The Hate U Give’ allowed the students to feel and empathize with the diverse, politically relevant issue. It was also awesome to enjoy a huge pancake breakfast and the camaraderie of our loyal Madison Heights Police Department.”

Pace, one of the officers in attendance, said via email that each side can learn from the other.

“We take pride in our position at the Police Department. … We realize that tremendous gains can be accomplished if people understand the day-to-day operations of police officers,” Pace said. “We also take these opportunities as a learning experience for ourselves, and as training for our fellow officers.”

Madison Heights Police Chief Corey Haines said it’s important for students to see the police as “just people with friends, families and life struggles, as well.” He said people should be patient with the sometimes cold demeanor of an officer during a traffic stop.

“At times, our approach or stance may seem awkward or rude, but we are trained to approach situations in a certain way for safety reasons,” Haines said. “We generally do not know who we are dealing with when making what may seem to be a simple traffic stop for speeding or running a light. The person we stop may have just committed a serious crime that we are unaware of, and it may not be just a simple traffic violation.”

The chief said that those pulled over by police should always follow the officer’s instructions, avoid making any sudden or threatening movements, keep their hands visible at all times, and treat the officer politely.

“Encounters with the police should end with all parties feeling they were treated with respect,” Haines said. “If the person does not feel that they have been respected or treated fairly, the person should follow up the traffic stop by speaking with the officer’s supervisor at a later time and away from the traffic stop.”