Youth Debate Police-Community Relations

From left to right – Back row: Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan, OPD Sergeant Holli Joshi, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Charles Smiley III, Alameda County Social Services Agency Director Lori Cox; Front row: Chris Martinez, Kyla Wheatfall, Elisa Saavedra, Shah Turner, Bay Area Urban Debate League Program Director Jenna Dookun. Photo coutesy of Bay Area Urban Debate League.

Kyla Wheatfall’s father was killed by a police officer when she was 10 years old, but the 20-year-old Oakland resident has found a way to forgive and moved on. “They were the first people I called when my grandmother passed away,” said Wheatfall, a psychology student at College of Alameda, during a lively debate about the complex relationships between law enforcement and the community.  “It was a police officer who held me and consoled me and told me everything would be okay.” Kyla’s remarks were part of a first-of-its-kind community forum that took place on Wednesday, Jan. 30 in the Alameda County Board of Supervisors Chambers.  Supervisor Keith Carson and the Bay Area Urban Debate League (BAUDL) hosted the event. “You have a real wealth of Oakland and Bay Area history in this room,” Carson told the youth as he welcomed the more than 65 community members, family members, county officials and clergy who attended the event. “You also have individuals who play a significant role in our community who have come to hear what you have to say about improving the health and safety of our neighborhoods.” The youth debaters, all younger than 21, were challenged to put together proposals to address the disconnect between law enforcement and urban communities. Wheatfall and her debating partner Elisa Saavedra, a senior at Skyline High School in Oakland, presented a policy proposal advocating for government reform – for school districts to build and fund youth centers that would serve as hubs for mentoring and safe activities before, during and after school. The centers would provide incentives for participation, such as stipends for employment at the center and loan forgiveness for college-bound students. Their opponents, Shah Turner, a junior, and Chris Martinez, a senior at Skyline High School, presented a contrasting proposal focused on grassroots community organizing to educate residents about the law and civil rights through teach-ins and community-based learning opportunities. “Community responsibility is essential to address the roots” of the problem of violence on our streets, argued Martinez. Superior Court Judge Charles Smiley III moderated the discussion, weaving in questions from the audience with feedback from expert panelists from law enforcement, social services, education, and community organizations. For more information, visit www.baudl.org.
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