'Our Land': A Youth Minister's Perspective On Community Policing

Stephen Williams is the youth minister at Bethany Baptist Church. (Tony Ganzer/WCPN)
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by Tony Ganzer, ideastream

Today we have another piece in “Our Land”: a conversation on community policing in Cleveland. This occasional series is featuring many diverse Cleveland perspectives always beginning the same way: asking what should community policing look like, and how far are we from it?  Today we hear from Stephen Williams, the youth minister at Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood.

WILLIAMS: “I believe we’re getting close there in this community, because we have police officers walking the beat now. That’s community policing to me: having the police officers walking the streets, checking on the business owners, the citizens, getting to know the youth in the community, all those type of things. And for the last few months or so we have seen officers walking the daily beat here in the community on 105, so that’s really good, I think that’s some forward progress.”

GANZER: “The police union criticized that, saying this is just for show having officers walk down the street.  But you think it’s actually making a difference?”

WILLIAMS: “I think naturally when folks see police walk by they’re going to either stop doing what they’re doing, or even run away, you know, depending on what type of business they’re involved in.  But just that presence, because you know a police officer can talk to you, arrest you, and all those types of things, so that makes a huge difference for safety.”

GANZER: “These young people, especially in this neighborhood, they face a lot of pressures from gang elements, but also just socioeconomic pressures.  How are they responding to the changes of the police? Do you see any reaction, I guess, to all the discussion that’s going on at City Hall and the Justice Department, or not so much?”

WILLIAMS: “I don’t know that that’s making a huge difference with our youth, particularly with our young black males, because they’re in the belly of the beast.  A lot of the young males we work with here at Bethany, which is prevalent throughout our low-income communities, they don’t have a father figure in their lives.  We’re dealing with some youth that are in foster homes.  They are kind of raising themselves out here, and they’re looking for love, so a gang that’s where they feel comfortable.  So the conversations that’s happening at City Hall and things like that I believe don’t really affect them per se…”

GANZER: “What would affect them?  What needs to happen and is not happening to affect them?”

WILLIAMS: “Our fathers needs to step up, especially for our young black males, anybody who doesn’t have a father especially in a low-income environment.  We need fathers to step up, be positive role models, be God-fearing brothers who teach our young brothers to go in a positive direction.  A father’s there to protect, to lead, to guide, to instruct.  When fathers are being put out of the household, now you’ve got these young brothers and sisters you know just going whichever way they’re being led.  You know, and if we don’t have the fathers in place, we need mentorship programs for our young brothers and our sisters, where they can have somebody that loves them, and looking out for them, and praying for them, and conversing with them, talking about issues, taking them out, all those type of things so they can get a positive alternative to what they’re facing on a daily basis on the streets.”

GANZER: “I heard you did reach out to some young people, and there wasn’t much interest to talk about this.  Why do you think that is?”

WILLIAMS: “I believe there’s just an unnatural relationship with, especially with our young folks and police officers, well, the black community with police officers, especially with a lot of things that’s going on, because they know about the shootings. That might affect them in a way where they, even without having direct contact with a police officer and getting to know someone personally, they just have that anger and angst with police.  And depending on what a young person is doing, what they’re involved in,  they’re not trying to be involved with police at all.  There’s a lot of factors in play, but when you don’t have a good relationship with police officers, you’re going to tend to, or anybody, any type of relationship, if you don’t have a good relationship, you’re going to sometimes stay away.”

Find more parts of this series here, including with the pastor of Bethany Baptist, Stephen Rowan.

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