Caught in the Crossfire: Are Black Detroit Youth Afraid of Police? 

Excessive force by police against Black citizens across the country has given rise to groups such as Black Lives Matter. The outcomes for the victims mostly have resulted in the kind of brutality in which ended their life by shots fired or in George Floyd’s case, an officer’s knee to his neck for nearly 10 minutes. 


As these tragedies have become all too normal for Black communities across the country, amplified by video images, online and in news media, has it heightened the level of fear youth in Detroit have toward the police? 


“They are in fear,” said Reginald ‘Reg’ Davis, president of The Ceasefire Youth Initiative. “But, they do see the difference in being safer here in Michigan compared to other cities in this country.” Davis alluded to the fear that Black youth and many communities of color have of law enforcement when being pulled over for a traffic ticket, the rules to follow and be hyper intent in following officers’ orders, knowing all too well how things can spiral out of control. 


Davis leads the Initiative which engages Detroit youth and helps steer them on a path away from gun violence. Currently, the program operates in two Detroit schools and will soon embark on an effort to strengthen youth and police relations thanks to a partnership by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. The program will be funded through a grant by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

“When it comes to Detroit Police and the State police, there’s a little bit more respect…so our kids have a little more of the understanding and thanks to groups like ours around the city, they’re able to touch the police and sit down with them.” 


Davis says his organization is like a buffer between young people and law enforcement. He recounts a recent shooting at Henry Ford High school where students weren’t willing to talk to police as witnesses. Davis’ group arrived on scene and a personable encounter amongst one of the group’s volunteers led some of the young students to describe what they witnessed. A testament to the group’s influence with community and police, helping to bridge gaps. 

“Yeah, kids are afraid, but not like situations in other cities,” Davis said. 

Youth-led groups are a part of the solution to bridging that fear some youth have for police. 

“We all have to be on the same page,” said Jeremiah Steen, president and executive director of Steen Foundation, a youth-led philanthropy aiming to invest in organizations which amplify youth voice in education, arts and culture, career development, and more. 

“Some of the work my foundation is doing with the Skillman Foundation is allowing youth to advise companies.” Steen says this setting is an opportunity for CEOs to listen to young people thoroughly and allow them to give feedback on what they received from it and strategies to embed youth ideas into their companies. 

Steen says he hopes law enforcement agencies will begin to take more of a similar approach.  

“More community-led conversations and more community and police developed plans will strengthen relationships.” 

Steen is a young Detroit leader and a Black male, it isn’t lost on him the concerns for himself or Black youth when faced with a police encounter, given current news headlines. 

He says his upbringing as a child and perspective on police is somewhat different. 

“My mother always instilled in me that you should look to the police to build relationship and trust.” 

Steen says the problem lies when officers abuse their authority and lose the trust. 

“If we start to focus on the assets in our community, such as seeing the police as an asset and the police see the community as an asset then we will all thrive.” 








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