Amid unrest in Baltimore between its police department and its citizens of color, the Garner Police Department is continuing to take steps to ensure that situations like that don’t happen here.
One way they do that, for instance, is Garner PAAL.
Garner PAAL, which stands for Police Athletics/Activities League, is a program focused on creating relationships and trust with youth through sports and other activities, thus dispelling the perception that “officers are the enemy” – particularly in communities of color – when they get older.
The idea is to have a child from third grade grow up through the program and by the time they graduate and finish college, become a public safety officer, said Sgt. Mike McIver.
“You can learn a lot of life lessons on the ball field,” McIver said. “And we really think that we can recruit the kids involved because they love sports. Let’s be honest. Everybody loves sports. They want to be the next MJ (Michael Jordan).”
McIver said the program teaches the students life lessons, like respect and anti-bullying. The program is in its fifth year in Garner.
The schools that participate are Creech Road Elementary, Vandora Springs Elementary, Timber Drive Elementary, North Garner Middle, East Garner Middle, and Garner High School.
On Tuesday, a group of nearly two dozen East Garner Middle School seventh-graders gathered at Avery Street Recreation Center to learn self-defense taught by a martial arts teacher.
Officer Kevan Anderson, a school resource officer who leads the East Garner Middle School group, also provided demonstrations for the students on strategies for self-defense.
“Put your arms on my shoulder,” Anderson told seventh-grader James Loughry.
Loughry put both arms on Anderson’s shoulders. Anderson whipped around, knocking his arms down and got into a self-defense position.
‘Not a mean guy’
He said before he got to know Anderson, he ran into some trouble with him at school. Loughry had gotten into trouble in class. When Anderson was asked to address the problem, James said he yelled at Anderson out of anger.
But the officer kept his cool and tried to have him learn from his mistake.
“I realized he’s not a mean guy,” Loughry said. “He’s trying to help us get straight and grow up to be good people.”
Seventh-grader Azariah Wright said he delt with a similar situation. And for that reason he respects Anderson.
“Some cops you have dirty cops of course, but Officer Anderson, that’s my homie,” Wright said. “That’s been my homie since last year. He’s cool. He helps every single person in the school.”
“I wish there were more officers like Officer Anderson.”
For most of the students, this is their first year in the program. Jaylon Cooke, 14, said before he joined the program he had a negative perception of all police officers. That perception has since changed.
“Your opinion on police depends on how you’ve been brought up,” Cooke said. “If police were a good thing to you as you were being brought up then you won’t look at them as negative.”
And vice-versa, he said.
Anderson said having respect when dealing with someone is the most important thing he has learned while on the job. He said he thinks that is one of the keys to bridging the gap between police and the community.
“I think it’s two things. One, it’s honest discussion,” Anderson said. “But two, it’s the mutual respect from one person to another. It’s the respect that I give you as a citizen that you as a person have a family, you have needs and you have wants. And it’s the respect that I understand where you’re coming from.
“And two you respect that just because I wear a badge and a gun that I’m not out to abuse or put anybody down, that I’m there as a help.”
“If we all just start respecting each other as human beings that have lives then I think that would do a lot to increase where we’re going,” he added.
Bud Davenport, chairman of the PAAL board of directors, agreed.
“In light of recent events in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri and other areas in our country, it just shows the importance of organizations like PAAL,” Davenport said. “The more people we can get involved playing sports with each other and seeing public safety in a positive light, I think the less chance we see of things to happen like they did last night.”
This year for its annual fundraiser to raise money for its programs, Garner PAAL will have the PAAL Olympics. There will be three competition categories. Garner PAAL is looking for people to sign up.
▪ Public Safety Organizations (Adult teams of area public safety agencies)
▪ Adult (18 and older other than public safety)
▪ Youth (12-17 years old)
The event will be May 30 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Avery Street Park Complex.
Some of the events include:
▪ Wing eating contest
▪ Fire truck pull/Tug-of-war
▪ Corn Hole
▪ 3-Point Basketball Shooting Contest
▪ Wiffle ball home run hitting contest
▪ Floor Hockey
For more information visit www.garnerpaal.org