WATCH: Basketball event seeks to bridge racial divide in Janesville
JANESVILLE--Cops and kids clashed on the basketball court at Bond Park on Saturday, as organizers watched, smiled, and hoped.
“Just rubbing elbows with the police officers, that changes the perception, I would think,” said Daniel Jackson, whose job was to keep score and set the match-ups between the 3-on-3 teams.
It looked like the kind of fun anyone would have at a park on a sunny afternoon. But the hope was this could help create a better society and maybe even save Janesville from tragedy.
Nobody spelled out the issue as directly as Da'Marcus DeValk, an eighth-grader at Marshall Middle School: “Not all cops are the same. Sometimes they discriminate. It hasn't happened to me, personally, but in some places, if a black person is in the wrong place at the wrong time, they pull a gun out. They blame it on them."
Police misconduct involving violence against black people--and other instances where it's not clear whether police acted correctly--have made headlines repeatedly in recent years.
Janesville police, like a great many departments across the country, have not been involved in any of these incidents. But the tragedies in other cities are felt and discussed by black people everywhere.
The Janesville Police Department, for its part, has put all of its employees through training to address the “implicit bias” everyone carries.
Another department effort involves inviting black residents to join an African American Liaison Advisory Committee. The group began working with police earlier this year to seek mutual understanding among cops and black residents.
Basketball is one of the activities the group designed to help cops and kids see each other as human beings, and maybe that will make a difference when police come to the scene of a crime, they said.
Officer Brad Rau had his jump shot working Saturday, but his team of cops still lost one of its games to a group from Marshall Middle School, which included DeValk.
Rau said young people can have preconceived notions about cops that are shaped by what they see on TV and social media, as well as what they might hear from family and friends.
As a white member of the committee, Rau met with minority students at Janesville's high schools and middle schools in May.
Rau said the students--some of whom had never talked to a cop--seemed receptive. Afterwards, police officers who work in the schools reported that students who had never talked to them before had opened up to them.
“It was very satisfying. We don't necessarily seek to save the world, but each person you affect positively is a step in the right direction,” Rau said.
One student involved in the talks later approached a school officer to ask for help with a bully, said Lonnie Brigham, the committee's president. The student hadn't told anyone about the bully before.
Brigham, who is black, said he hoped young people would “realize police officers are human, have lives and are people, just like us.”
Asked if his attitude had changed after playing ball with cops, DeValk said he still had issues, but he was willing to say, “All cops aren't bad.”
And, he said, “they're better at basketball than I thought.”