The words of a four-year-old Harlem girl, “I don’t like the police,” sparked a gathering of over 100 children and 40 police officers at Catholic Charities Joseph P. Kennedy Center on February 21.
The little girl, spooked by what she heard about police shootings of unarmed black men, made her comment to Jackie Rowe, founder of Harlem Mother SAVE, an organization founded by mothers who lost their sons to gun violence.
“Jackie realized at that point how our babies are affected by what they see and hear from the news, adults and teens,” says Deacon Rodney Beckford who runs center that held the event. “Indeed, there is the effect police officers have on the community as they carry out their duty while babies watch.”
So Ms. Rowe and community affairs police officers decided to host a small event with a few children to dispel the notion that police are bad.
Instead, the event, held on a stormy winter day, was packed with Harlem children, police chiefs, captains, sergeants and patrolmen. For four hours mounted police took selfies with children, jumped double dutch, flopped in a two-story bounce ride brought in by the police and painted faces with a clown.
New York City’s highest ranked uniform officer, NYPD Department Chief James O’Neill, fielded questions from children ages 3 – 15 as fellow police gave out NYPD basketballs and ate pizza with the children.
“To bring families and communities together is what Catholic Charities Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Center exists to do in the Harlem community,” says Deacon Beckford. “That’s what we at Catholic Charities are called to do day in and day out.”