The Operation Save Our Sons organization arranged a conversation Tuesday night between police officers and the teens who admit they don't always trust authorities.
Those community conversations will continue in Jacksonville. The next one is scheduled for Oct. 28 at Open Arms Christian Fellowship on Dunn Avenue at Duval Road. Pastor Leofric Thomas and his congregation will host that event.
Tuesday's event was hosted by Pastor John Guns, founder of Operation Save Our Sons, a local organization aimed at young black males.
Guns said the community conversations hold the key to mutual respect and understanding, and some of the officers at Tuesday's meeting were encouraged by the results.
Channel 4's Kent Justice was the moderator for Tuesday's hour-long Q-and-A session.
“This is a different spin, (an) excellent idea,” said Chief Pat Ivey of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. “We've already met with pastors, and I think with the partnership gained here, we're going to push it citywide.”
Ivey was encouraged by the effort to open lines of communication between his officers and the people they're sworn to protect. He said adults already have a sense of engagement with their community.
“The young people have to feel that, too,” Ivey said. “They have to feel that they're a part of this. ... And when they do that, start helping us, it'll be a partnership. We help them; they help us. … Nothing but good will come from it.”
Parents, who were asked not to join the conversation but to just observe, seemed thankful for Tuesday's initial conversation. They also seemed hopeful it would change perceptions and attitudes.
“I think it's really important for our community to know as a whole that the police are not our enemy, that they are here for our children,” Chiquita Moore said. “That it's a working relationship. That we have to teach our children that police are there for us, just like family. ... And for police to know that we're not their enemy either. ... There has to be mutual understanding.”
“I think it brought us closer together and made us not fear authority and helped us respect them more,” said 14-year-old panelist La'Tajah du Bignon.
Guns, who anticipates more people at the next event, said he felt called to organize the forum after hearing and seeing the mistrust of authorities following the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
Guns said he's passionate about building bridges between the children and the men and women in uniform, so respect and understanding prevails over fear and suspicion.
“Because there is a 'chip' on far too many of our young men's shoulders, particularly African American males when it comes to law enforcement,” Guns said. “And there is a chip when it comes to some law enforcement as well. … But last night, I saw the chip being 'chipped away,' if you will. … It's exciting"
Because discussions between teens and patrolmen could benefit every community, Guns said he continues to talk with community leaders in other cities who want to organize similar events.