Over the summer we have taken our weekly community meal outside into the car park in front of the CHIPS flat. This has provided many more opportunities to meet our neighbours and interact with the young people that occupy and move through the space.
One evening we were having our food outside and a police car came on to the estate responding to a call. It drove very quickly around the car park without lights or siren. We all felt that their driving had been dangerous as there are alleyways which the children had just been running in and out of that could not have been seen by the driver. The young people, some of whom resent the police after often being stopped and searched and feel powerless before them, were clearly agitated by the manner of the police’s arrival. Because we were outside and present, we were able to hold a conversation with the police about their driving. Needless to say they did not agree with our assessment, but we took their badge number and passed on our concerns to a senior police officer that we have built a relationship with.
The story is important for various reasons, we were able to stand in the gap between the young people and the police. We had a polite conversation with the police but were also able to hold them to account. Simultaneously, we were communicating something to the young people - they initially asked why we were speaking to the police, but when they found out that we were in fact reporting the police to the police, they saw that we were on their side, that we were not afraid to enter into healthy conflict with the police, who make the young people feel threatened and powerless. We could do because we had already developed a positive relationship with some local officers and knew that we could safely challenge them about how they were driving.
The impact was immediate for the young people who found it amusing but also seemed to pick up on the important message. They laughed and said “God bless you Josh!”.