Friday, January 31, 2020

Restoring the link between youth and authority

One of the key pieces of the Trustbuilding Program project, Oui Act, in Paris, France, is the ninth session: restoring the link between youth and authority. For this session, a police officer is invited into the classroom to have an open conversation with the students, where they have the chance to ask the officer anything they want. This session is a unique opportunity for these young people, since the relationship between youth and law enforcement is often put to the test by tensions, mutual prejudices and a lack of understanding on both sides. This session recently took place at the technical highschool of ENNA, with ‘Officer Palicot’, whose function within the police force is exactly this: reaching out to young people.

Ask me anything

Over the course of the different sessions of the Oui Act project, a bond of trust has been built between the facilitators and the students. The students know that Oui Act sessions allow them to speak freely and that no questions or remarks are foolish. This seems to be at odds with what these young people, who often come from low-income neighbourhoods, experience during any encounters they have with police. Their encounters are often ones of conflict and not suited for dialogue or listening, by police or students. Thus, the ninth session with a police officer is a rare opportunity for the students to have an honest conversation with a police officer in a setting they trust and identify as a safe space.

In the most recent session, this feeling of freedom enabled students to ask the officer questions about police work, which is often influenced by the movies and shows they grew up with. ‘Did you ever fire your weapon?’ ‘Can we shoot someone if they’re breaking into our home?’ However, during much stronger moments, there was also a sharing session on lived experiences. Many of the students have witnessed or have been a victim of negative encounters with the police. ‘Why are you always checking our IDs, even when we’re just chilling with our friends?’ ‘Why did my friend get taken in for questioning and got sprayed with gas, even though he didn’t do anything?’

Mutual understanding

During the session, Officer Palicot helped the students to put into words what they found difficult in their interactions they have with police. He explained to them how he and his colleagues work and how they evaluate different situations before they act. For example: if a group of people are hanging out together on the street, they might be seen as a potential threat by people who live in the neighbourhood, even if the people hanging out aren’t doing anything wrong. When these neighbours call the police, it is the officers’ duty to check what’s happening as a response. He explained that the friend of one of the students, the one who was sprayed with gas, must have matched the profile of a man they were looking for and, because he appeared to be fleeing, this forced the policeman to use gas to stop him. The officer explained that, for a police officer, every action taken is a step to reduce risks to others.

This session also offered the opportunity for Officer Palicot to explain that his daily life is not just what the media shows. He was able to make the students understand the level of insecurity in which the officers operate daily. He told them that he became a policeman to protect and serve others, but it often happens that when he tries to help a victim by arresting a person who made trouble, he and his co-workers are attacked by bystanders, even if the troublemaker has been recognized as the culprit.

At the end of the session the Officer Palicot explained to the Oui Act facilitators that in his experience, these young people have never learned how to build healthy relationships with adults, often because their parents no longer have time for them. So, their only source of understanding adult relationships are found on the internet, in movies and in video games. The Oui Act project provides these young people with adults who make time for them and offer them a safe space to have open and honest conversations. As a part of the Trustbuilding Program, we believe the Oui Act will help the next generation build healthy relationships and feel that they are valued members of society in France.

(photo by: Kristoffer Trolle)

The Trustbuilding Program is aimed at addressing divisive issues at the international and national levels, on the premise that only those who have undergone the internal process of becoming trustworthy themselves can close gaps across the globe. The Program was launched by Initiatives of Change International in 2019 with projects in Kenya, Canada and France.