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UCHS Athletes Connect with Police at Beyond the Badge Event

 

Beyond the badge UCHS Athletes Connect with Police at Beyond the Badge Event

by Heather Gain
Communication Specialist

Football players and police in University City gathered this summer at University City High School for a frank conversation about the relationship between young Black men and law enforcement.

The July 24 Beyond the Badge event connected youths and police officers in a relaxed setting to engage in real conversations.

“We wanted to break down the barriers and the presumptions that we have about law enforcement in our community,” said Michael Peoples, principal of University City High School. “And we wanted to build relationships between law enforcement and our young men.”

Wesley Bell at Beyond the Badge Retired St. Louis Rams player and NFL Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell and University City Police Chief Larry Hampton were the featured speakers.

About 25 football players from University City High School, along with police officers from University City and other agencies, broke into small groups to dig deeper into topics such as policing, racial profiling and fear of law enforcement. The students asked a lot of questions.

“They just wanted to be heard. Some were curious. Some were angry,” said UCHS Football Coach Jason Wells. “It opened their eyes up that not all police officers are bad, especially with what’s going on.”


“They just wanted to be heard. Some were curious. Some were angry.”

- UCHS Football Coach Jason Wells


The players were particularly interested in how they should safely respond when stopped by police. Officers described ways that young men can help defuse a situation that becomes tense.

“The officers were honest,” Wells said. “They gave good, solid advice.”

Grant Sneed, a federal officer for the U.S. District Court, created the program to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the people he serves. As a Black man with a teenage son, he shared his own experiences.

“I wanted everybody to walk away with the understanding that not all cops are bad,” Sneed said.
Sneed asked the officers and students to give him a list of questions and topics before the event. Then he connected the two groups to have a meaningful conversation.

The questions the players put to the officers included:
• Why are young African-American males seen as a threat?
• Why does it take so long for an officer to approach during a traffic stop?
• What is considered threatening behavior when interacting with police?
• How do you feel when you see an officer-involved shooting when the officer was in the wrong?
• What does your badge or uniform mean to you?

Sneed anticipated the event might be tense and emotional. He knew the players were frustrated and angry with police because of their own experiences and ongoing policing incidents across America. Instead, the day was full of smiles and laughter as the two groups found things in common such as sneakers, video games and football.

“One of the kids said, ‘Now I know an officer is just a regular person’,” Sneed recalled. “All they saw was the uniform and badge and what they represent. They didn’t see the person behind it all who has a life outside of work and a family.”

Students at Beyond the Badge

UCHS senior Isaac Braeske said he was apprehensive about the event because he knows a lot of people have negative experiences with police.
His anxiety lifted when he heard stories from Black officers about their own experiences on the job and as civilians. Several had been the target of racial discrimination themselves, Braeske said.

“I feel more comfortable knowing the people who enforce the laws in my own community,” he said. “Most people are naturally uncomfortable around them. But I’m more willing to have a conversation now.”

Jacardion French, a UCHS junior, said he related to with Black officers and appreciated their advice.

“It was helpful,” he said. “Now I know what to do if I get pulled over.”

Three next steps emerged from the event. Bell invited the players to participate in an emergency scenario simulation to see what it’s like to make split-second decisions as police do. Hampton invited the students for ride-alongs with U. City police officers once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Then Sneed introduced the players to a variety of law enforcement career options.

Peoples said the students and staff walked away from the event feeling like they had allies in law enforcement.

“The players gained an increased level of trust of law enforcement who are serving their community,” he said. “They left there with an olive branch extended to build a relationship with the police department.”