When Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson last year, it intensified the debate about how law enforcement interacts with the community.
That debate continues across the nation and in schools here in Houston.
A student and a police officer talk about how they overcame distrust in the latest installment of this series, Inside the Classroom.
When Stephanie Mosquera got into serious trouble on campus, she was sent to alternative high school. There she enrolled in a mentoring program with police officers, called the Teen and Police Service Academy, or TAPS, where she met Sgt. Anthony Turner. He’s a veteran officer with the Houston Police Department’s homicide division.
Here’s a transcript of their conversation.
Sgt. Anthony Turner: The first day when we come in and say, ‘You see me in this uniform, what do you think about me?’
Stephanie Mosquera: Trying to put us in jail, looking for any type of reason to get us in trouble even when we’re doing literally nothing. I just didn’t, I just don’t like, I didn’t like any police officers. No matter who that police officer was, at that time, I did not like them.
Turner: Really? Why?
Mosquera: Not just because of my experience with them, but because of my family’s experience with police officers. Like my brother and my dad, like how they got arrested a lot. They told me stories about how police officers would act unfairly with them and stuff. And then I had my own experience with them, so my perspective on them was really bad.
Turner: But what about some of the things like your peers say? Like some of them in class, they would call us “Twelve.”
Mosquera: They’ll call you an “Op.” Yeah, that’s the most famous one.
Turner: And what is “Op”?
Mosquera: Op is the opposite, like your enemy, it’s like your enemy.
But you know most of us, we’re pretty nervous when we meet y’all. When we get in there, we really don’t know what to expect. Sometimes the kids they come in, the teenagers, and y’all are too playful, sometimes you don’t want to talk, sometimes we have to force it out of you. And a lot of us, we don’t like to speak in public.
Mosquera: It was like, I believe, five weeks into the program when my perspective on them changed a lot. Like, a lot.
Turner: Was it something we said? Or just you being around us?
Mosquera: Y’all really helped us whenever y’all kept telling us stuff that y’all didn’t like, like giving us basically advice on how to act when we approach police officers. Like a police officer will actually give us time to explain our side of the story if we got into a little problem. When that happens, I’m just like, ‘Y’all are not going to believe me. Whatever y’all do, you’re going to take me to jail.’ That’s automatically what I had thought. But whenever you had told us that the reason why we take you to jail is because we automatically get so pumped up about it, because of our perspective on the police officer.
Turner: Because of your attitude. We let y’all know that your attitude kind of dictates the situation. And if you can have a positive attitude, and you can show the officer respect, the officer will respect you back.
But also, we learn from, like, I learn from you. I learned the fact that as a police officer, I had to understand that when I come, you see my uniform. And not only do you see my uniform, but the way I speak to you, it’s maybe not what I say, but how I say it. So I might tell you, “Sit down,” and you might feel like I’m saying, “SIT DOWN!” But just because (I’m) an authority figure.
But maybe if I can lower my voice, and not make myself seem so threatening, that we can communicate better. You can say, “OK, maybe he wants to listen to me.”
Mosquera: You trust me?
Turner: I do trust you.
Mosquera: OK, good!
Turner: I trust you enough. You can call me if you need some advice. But it’s just one of those things that we had to work on.
I know one thing that I wanted to ask you. What about now, after being in the TAPS program, and you see all these things over the news and on social media, like how does that make you feel about police officers?
Mosquera: Like when I see people talk about police officers on social media, I really get upset. I mean, there are sometimes where I’m like, wow that police officer really was in the wrong. But that doesn’t change my perspective on the ones that I have met. There are still some good police officers out there. If you automatically think all police officers are bad, you’re going to treat all of them bad and they’re all going to come at you bad, because of how you approached them first. You just have to give them a chance.
Turner: You, Stepahnie, I want to say thank you for even being open enough to give myself and the other officers the opportunity to get to know you, and for you to teach us and for us to be able to share some of our experiences with you.