On August 24th of his sophomore year, Erleans Joseph was stopped abruptly by police officers at the bus stop by the Columbia Mall. As he was roughly shoved on the deck of the officers car, Joseph was told he was under arrest. Without any knowledge of what he had done wrong, and a weighty feeling of embarrassment, Joseph recollects the exact moment when the officers racially profiled him, and subjected him to the most intense feeling of fear he’d ever experienced.
“The cop just grabbed me out of nowhere and said that I was under arrest with no background context,” said Joseph. “I was scared, the officer was being rough, there were at least four more cop cars that pulled up, and then officer put me in cuffs and took me down to the station, just for me to find out I happened to fit the description of a black shirtless kid.”
Police harassment has been a recurrent issue in the African American community for generations, in large part due to unjust racism and discrimination. For Joseph, his encounter hit right at home, and now he has strong emotions surrounding uncomfort and discourse in regards to the police.
Mr. Nicks, the liaison for the Black Student Achievement Program, has signified the history between people of color and police officers that has sparked a universal feeling of trauma within African Americans. “Just a police officer in a badge can be traumatic for many black people because it brings back memories they’ve either experienced or witnessed at the hands of police”, says Mr. Nicks. “I do fear for the safety of some of the students here at Wilde Lake because it has become a regularity in our culture to take up an oppositional view of the police, a mentality that places them against us and vice versa.
Alongside police harassment, police brutality, in the form of numerous shootings, has been another subject that has sparked rage in the African American community, and it’s led to multiple casualties, witnessed nationwide through the scope of the media.
Due to the atrocities she has witnessed in the media, junior Alexandra Mouangue angrily comments, “I don’t feel safe in the presence of police, and I have every reason not to considering how they treat black people every day.”
Junior Jordan Edmond, shares this view alongside Mouangue, as he was recently patrolled by a police officer alongside his cousin in London last year. “I felt a little on edge, especially considering the fact that I didn’t do anything and the officer was still patrolling us”, says Edmond.
Despite this view obtained by Joseph, along with many others threatened and fearful of the police, Student Resource Officer, Rafeh Shams, seeks to restore and maintain a positive image of police officers in the students at Wilde Lake. “Just like cops, there are bad and good teachers, and bad and good students. It’s all relative, so what a few people do wrong shouldn’t label an entire group of people,” says Shams.
Although Officer Shams acknowledges that there are tensions that need to be worked on between low income communities and police officers, she credits Howard County for its richness in which she feels contributes to the high level of professionalism found in law enforcement.
As a Student Resource Officer at Wilde Lake, Shams has taken the time to reflect on the impact the Wilde Lake mentoring program has allowed her to have with her students. “I’m definitely grateful for the program,” she said with a smile. “It lets the students interact with SROs on a daily basis, where they not only get to build healthy relationships with us as officers, but as people as well.”
In regards to the future safety of African Americans nationwide, Mr. Nicks advises that we all confront our fears, question our beliefs, and avoid jumping to conclusions when dealing with police officers, as well as taking the time to understand the officers point of view.