Teens and police from Oakland Schools hold conversation on race and violence

School officials in Oakland held a discussion on Thursday with four black teenagers about race, violence, and what can be done to improve their interactions.

The teenagers came to La Escuelita Elementary School on their own time for the candid conversation. They talked about the recent deaths of two black men by police in Minnesota and Louisiana, as well as the deaths of five Dallas police officers.

They were joined by Oakland School District Police Chief Jeff Godown and OUSD Superintendent Antwan Wilson.

“Their perception of me and my perception of them is very different until we sit down and have a conversation,” Godown said.

Wilson said youth voices are important and they wanted to create a vehicle for students to express how they’re feeling.

“I think it’s a matter of us not finding ways to become further polarized,” Wilson said. We must come together and say this isn’t who we are as a county and our youth can help us do that.”

The teenage boys, ranging in age from 15 to 17, all expressed similar fears and concerns surrounding police.

“We try to stay away from police,” Elijah Hames, a 16-year-old, said. “We try to stay away because we don’t want them to pre-judge us.”

The discussion led to suggestions from the teens about having officers move involved at Oakland schools in an attempt to break down barriers and build relationships.

“I do not believe in violence,” Darius Aikens, a 17-year-old, said. “I definitely want to keep the momentum going. We can’t just have one conversation and expect results.”

Godown said he hopes to move the work forward. He asked the young me to become part of an advisory committee that would recruit more students to get involved in the conversation about improving police and community relations.