THE words of Martin Luther King, Jr., were drawn on at the launch of a youth-led campaign to improve relationships between young people and the police, in Croydon last week.
“Like Martin Luther King, Jr, said, ‘I have a dream,’ Rishawn, a young leader at St Oswald’s, Norbury, told a Citizens Assembly at St Paul’s, Thornton Heath. “I have a dream that young people and police should get along. Where young people in the community don’t feel victimised, and police shouldn’t feel intimidated. Why should we be stopped and searched while on the way from school?”
In addition to launching the campaign, the assembly was a celebration of the work of Public Spirit; a group of young people in Croydon North Deanery dedicated to community organising.
The deanery, comprising 12 churches, formed a partnership with Croydon Citizens to run six months of leadership workshops, and a residential training for young people to learn about how to bring about change in their communities.
Public Spirit has led a listening campaign across parishes, to identify problems in need of solving, and to recruit young people to join the team. Although many issues came up, from mental health to homelessness, it was the relationship between young people and the police that emerged as the priority.
Supported by organisers from Citizens UK, the young people built the campaign around two key “asks”: better communication between young people and police, through a local police Instagram account and named police officers that they can relate to; and trials of stop-relate-and-search as a more relational alternative to stop-and-search.
The launch of the campaign, on Tuesday of last week, was attended by local leaders including the Labour MP for Croydon North, Steve Reed; the Mayor of Croydon, Cllr Bernadette Khan; and Superintendent Tamsin Jones; with seven members of Croydon Police, all of whom agreed to make a commitment to work with young people to pilot stop-relate-and-search in Croydon.
Superintendent Jones praised the opportunity to hear “solutions that you have formulated that we can help with and support”, and apologised to a woman who had described a “negative experience. . . It isn’t something that we would wish to ever have any member of our communities experiencing.” Together, they could “create something really special”.
Mr Reed praised stop-relate-and-search as “fantastic”, and promised to “bring it up in the Commons”.
“We’ve learnt, if we want to make change, we need to be building a relationship with the decision-makers,” Bakari, a young Public Spirit leader from St Oswald’s, Norbury, said. “If we are not at the table, then we are on the menu.”
Attended by the Area Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, and more than 140 people from churches in the area, the event included poetry, testimonies, and dramas.
“It was inspiring to see young people from our churches speak with such power and confidence about the things that they really care about,” the Vicar of St Luke’s, Woodside, the Revd Sam Dennis, said. “Too often in churches, we end up trying to entertain young people, and don’t take seriously their hope, imagination, and desire to make a difference. . . Tonight’s assembly shows how powerful our young people can be.”
Bishop Clark said that Public Spirit — “confident, passionate, inclusive, diverse, proud to be representing the Church in their borough” — “showed us all what the Church can and should be as a force for good in society. I am privileged to serve them.”
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