By David Brand
Three young people from Queens participated in Tuesday’s Civilian Complaint Review Board Youth Summit on New York City policing, an initiative to uplift the voices of young people in the conversation about over-policing and community relations. The CCRB is an independent agency that investigates and mediates complaints against NYPD officers.
The “Speak Up, Speak Out” forum attracted students from around the city, including Winnie Shen from Flushing, Jagger Helfand from Astoria and Christopher Mitchell from Cambria Heights.
Shen, 22, is a community organizer apprentice at the housing rights organization Housing Conservation Coordinators in Hell’s Kitchen. She also works with the Chinese Feminist Collective.
She said she was motivated to apply for the CCRB Youth Advisory Council after observing the experience of a family member who was arrested in Upstate New York.
“Going through the process, I was amazed by how inhumane it was,” Shen said. “This was one way I could take action.”
She said her family member was able to post bail, which spared them from a lengthy pretrial jail stint. But that is not the experience for many low-income New Yorkers who remain on Rikers Island or in other city jails simply because they cannot afford bail, she said.
Shen said she is particularly interested in the rights of sex workers in Flushing who are arrested for crimes related to prostitution.
“Police are going after the workers instead of the customers or the employers,” she said.
Helfand, 15, is a sophomore at Bard High School Early College and a member of the school’s debate team, student government and newspaper.
“I’ve always been really interested in social justice,” Helfand said. “It’s rare that youth are asked to talk about this and I want to make a difference.”
Helfand said many of her peers of color feel uncomfortable around the police because of negative interactions and experiences, such as stop-and-frisk encounters. She said she wants to improve community-police relations and amplify the voices of young people.
“It’s walking down the street, seeing police and not feeling safe,” Helfand said. “Police are supposed to make you feel safe.”
Mitchell, 12, is an accomplished gymnast and violinist who plans to pursue a legal career.
“Listening to different perspectives of other young people has led me to a deeper understanding of the role that the youth play in the well-being of New York City,” Mitchell said. “The success of the Youth Summit has taken us a step closer to forming a stronger bond with those that are trusted to enforce the laws of this great city. It’s an honor to stand beside young people that are hungry for change! I look forward to continued work with the YAC as we use what we learned to help improve our city.”