At a time when relations between law enforcement and the African-American community have been strained nationally, Raleigh police worked Saturday to build community ties while helping children learn how to safely ride bicycles.
Dozens of children, accompanied by their parents, attended Saturday’s bike rodeo at Lions Park sponsored by the Raleigh Police Department’s Southeast District. In between bicycle riding lessons and free popcorn and snow cones, the children had one-on-one interactions with police officers that they may carry with them into the future.
“With all the stuff that’s going on nationwide, this is a good way for us to kind of get back with the community and instill some trust in the Raleigh Police Department,” said Officer Charles Kay, a member of the Southeast District community policing squad.
Police locally and nationally have talked about the need to maintain community trust after this month’s fatal shootings of African-American men by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota and the fatal shooting of five police officers in Dallas.
Some community activists have called for police reforms after an officer shot and killed a 24-year-old African-American man in Southeast Raleigh on Feb. 29.
Saturday’s bike rodeo was the brainchild of Kay, who grew up “near the rougher areas of Raleigh” near Biltmore Hills and Garner Road. Kay said he saw the bike rodeo as a way to build community relations while also dealing with the problem of bicycle thefts.
Kay said many bicycles that are recovered aren’t returned because there’s no way to identify the owner. One part of Saturday’s rodeo included free engraving of identification numbers on bicycles. The numbers are recorded on a police database.
The event was open to residents throughout Raleigh, but it drew a large number of families from the Lions Park area, on Dennis Avenue near downtown.
I kind of wanted to allow my kids to see something different as far as the positive things police officers do.
“It made sense to try to bring my son out to just see right now that there’s still good police in the world,” said Nervahna Crew of Raleigh, who brought her 10-year-old son Randall.
Pinkie Harris of Raleigh said her two sons, Samuel, 14, and Israel, 12, have been talking about the recent shootings. Harris said she brought her sons Saturday so that they’d have fun and meet police officers.
“I kind of wanted to allow my kids to see something different as far as the positive things police officers do,” Harris said. “Even though my kids are under the age of 18, I don’t want their mindset to be at an early age that every police officer is bad and then they grow up angry because of the different things happening in the news.”
Angela Dennis said she brought her 6-year-old son Charles Wilson to help prepare him for the transition to riding on bicycles with pedals. But the Raleigh mother also had another motivation.
“Since it’s with the Raleigh Police Department, it’s a good way for him to see the community come together,” Dennis said.
Sgt. L.W. Codrington of the community policing squad said that they’re looking at turning the bike rodeo into an annual event. That’s something Kay wouldn’t mind. Kay spent Saturday riding a bicycle, working with the children.
“I think this is what community policing is about,” Kay said. “It’s not all telling people what to do but getting out and actually communicating with the community.”