Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis joined police officers from Dorchester last Friday to formally sign an agreement with local youth in a continued effort to promote mutual respect and reduce area violence. The signing took place at the Holland Elementary School hours after a young woman was fatally shot just off the school property and concluded two months of candid dialogue between police and Teen Empowerment, the community group that hosted the signing.
"It went from talking, to having this agreement right here," said Jumaane Kenrick, 20, as he pointed at the over-sized paper contract on the auditorium stage behind him.
About a dozen youth and a handful of officers flanked the agreement and took turns reading from its eight points before signing it and shaking hands with one another.
After reading part of the agreement and adding his signature to the bunch, Commissioner Davis told around 150 youths that "this process [has] made police and kids human to each other."
"We're making sure police officers get out of their cars and go talk to kids," he said. "I pledge to make a difference."
During the upbeat bouts of spoken word, skits, and dancing that followed the signing, Teen Empowerment's executive director Stanley Pollack lauded Davis's interactive approach and said the event symbolized the "changed relationship" between area youth and police.
"This commissioner came down to Bowdoin Street," Pollack said, referring to the youth group's location in Dorchester. "He sought us out, which is the first time that's happened."
"The police [have taken] different attitudes," Pollack said, since C-11 District Captain John Greland sent six Dorchester officers to Bowdoin Street in early February, where they then held a "deep" and "intense" conversation with youth about profiling and disrespect.
Two weeks later youth organizers from Teen Empowerment met with Area Commander Rafael Ruiz, Greland, and Davis, who then agreed to the formal signing, according to Pollack.
Many at the event still cautioned that it was too early to celebrate in light of the shooting just yards away earlier that day.
"Although we've done a lot of work so far, there's still a lot to do," said Natasha Rodriguez, a freshman at Madison Park High School in Roxbury. "This is just the beginning of what we're thinking of doing with the cops. It's going to take a while to progress fully."
A press release promoting the signing called for "youth to participate with police in training sessions."
"I know the Commissioner is looking at these things, but it's important that that happen," Pollack said after Davis told the crowd, "We need you to trust us."
One way Teen Empowerment cultivates police relationships is by hosting "Chill Spot Shows" to build solidarity among youth organizers who can then negotiate with police more effectively.
Pollack described the shows as platforms "to cull leaders from - through rap, spoken words, and public speaking." Twenty year-old Charlestown High School graduate Marquis Roberts promoted the shows as opportunities "to resolve hostilities" between otherwise territorial people.
"There was a terrible event outside this school today," Roberts said of the shooting while he took a break from dancing with his young daughter. "I don't want my daughter to be raised in the violence of today."
Jumaane Kendrick, a student at Bunker Hill Community College, said he was stabbed last summer and shot two years ago near the Holland School just a month after serving time for gun possession.
Kendrick said the agreement represented what he has done for his family. He asked the crowd, "What will you do for your family?"
"I'm living proof of going from negative to positive," Kendrick said, adding that he had resolved a potential shooting in Mattapan earlier "by just speaking and just asking what was going on." One of the skits portrayed an argument-turned-shooting that was rewound and re-acted to prevent the shooting and to illustrate dialogue's life-saving benefit.
"Miscommunication happens so fast," Kendrick said while a friend he recruited to teen empowerment bounced around stage, hurtling through stanzas that decried former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's budget cuts to youth programs in wake of the 2002 budget crisis.
In a vitriolic opinion piece for the Boston Globe last July, Pollack also condemned the cuts as reversing years of progress and cited "complacency about youth violence" as another reason for a rebound in violent crime after shootings had plummeted for a decade after 1993.
Pollack described cutting government youth programs as the "stupidest, foolish, and most wrong-headed of politics."
Despite occasional undertones of anger and frustration, laughter and camaraderie prevailed Friday night. Teen Empowerment plans to hold more events where police and youth can establish rapport, and both camps are planning the 15th annual Youth Peace Conference at Roxbury Community College on Saturday, May 19.
Commissioner Davis stuck around for the beginning of the performances, and before leaving he told reporters: "The kids here tonight are exactly the kind of kids we want to reach."