If you are a teenager and you don’t want a police officer to stop you, don’t spit on the sidewalk. That is among the lessons that a group of North Division High School students learned at a recent Safe Night event sponsored by Safe and Sound, an initiative to reduce crime in low-income neighborhoods.
The prohibition against spitting on the sidewalk is a current city ordinance, Officer Bill Singleton, of Milwaukee’s 5th district told the group. A police officer can also stop people for riding their bikes with fewer than two hands on the handlebars, loitering in a parking area or flying a kite in or on airport grounds.
“We wanted to give them the perspective through a cop’s eyes,” Singleton said after the meeting. He also explained that students and community members need to be more aware of city ordinances.
Safe Night at North Division brought together youth from B&G North Division, Holton Youth & Family Center, Neu Life Community Resource Center, Running Rebels Community Organization and LaVarnway B&G. A similar event took place at Bruce-Guadalupe Middle School on the south side.
During the Youth Crime Analysis Meeting (YCAM) that kicked off Safe Night, Singleton told the 70 attendees, “We just want you guys to know what you can and cannot do…We don’t want to have to stop you for something and get into an argument because you didn’t know you couldn’t do something.”
Singleton took the students through several interactive exercises. First, he showed students two maps to compare Milwaukee’s higher crime rates with rates in the suburbs. Next, Singleton asked students whether each of a list of ordinances was real or fake. For example, they found out that it is illegal to spit on the sidewalk, but not to spit on the grass. Then students listened to a dispatcher describe different suspects and learned the challenges police officers face in tracking down criminals.
“I thought it was interesting,” said Ebony Hobbs, 18. “I think we got a better understanding of some of the neighborhoods and we got to hear another side of the story that we didn’t know, and how hard it is for cops.”
“I think the event went really well,” added Singleton. “There was a really good turnout and it was fun.”
In addition to discussions on drugs, crime and violence and how they affect youth, their families and friends, Safe Night featured entertainment, food and music. After the exercises, students performed original dances, poetry and rap songs for their peers.
The first-time event kept teens off the streets and involved in a positive activity, said Ceso Sprewell, teen coordinator at the North Division Boys and Girls Club and a Safe Night coordinator.
Sprewell added that events like these allow students to get to know what is going on in their community.
“We want [students] to have a place where they can share camaraderie,” Sprewell said. Referring to Safe Night, he added, “We want to be recognized for something that’s good.”