Young New Yorkers do "mock police academy" while public debate rages
Police officer has always been one of the coolest professions, up there with astronaut and rock star. But is it still that way in New York City?
New York has been having a very public conversation about police brutality following the death last month of Eric Garner during an arrest from a chokehold. And the NYPD is continually dogged with allegations that young minority men are more likely to be stopped and arrested.
But for Antwan Richards, a black 17 year-old from Brownsville, Brooklyn, the police department is a future.
"It changed my life, it changed everything," he said. "From hanging out in the streets, to seeing what the streets is about. Now I'm just cut off from half of [that] stuff."
Richards was talking about Law Enforcement Exploring, a three-week mock police academy at Fordham University in the Bronx. It is his third year taking part. He is one of more than 250 young, mostly minority, New Yorkers in the 60 year-old program.
Richards said some kids in his neighborhood thinks cops are bad. When police officers showed up at his school to talk about their jobs, students rolled their eyes.
"I turned to them, I said, if I become a cop one day, you're gonna get in trouble on the streets, and I'm probably gonna be there and you're gonna want my help. And I'm gonna look, 'remember what you said during high school and this and that? And now look, you need my help, right?'"
Other explorers had the same idea.
"It's definitely still cool to be a police officer," said Brittany Cooper of St. Alban's in Queens. "Because they're the ones out there helping us."
The 18 year-old Cooper thought the NYPD's critics are focusing too much on the wrong things.
"It's not all the time that you see people taking videos and commenting on police officers doing the right thing, they try finding the bad thing because they want to use it against the police officers, she said. "I think we should focus more on the positive. Sometimes bad things happen. It's not our fault. It's not their fault."
Some explorers say they've been talking about those "bad things" and the NYPD's strained community relations with their teachers, but only in a general sense.
NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Rafael Piniero spoke to the explorers during their morning exercises. Afterward he did not seem concerned with whether his job was still hip.
"As a police officer, it's not something I would refer to as cool," Piniero said. "It's a sense of duty. It's a sense of public commitment. It's not for everyone, obviously."