A group of 8th graders in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn decided to help prevent racially-motivated police misconduct. Through their research, they discovered a critical aspect of this distressing problem, one that often gets less attention. Each year, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) receives 157,000 911 calls involving New Yorkers struggling with mental and emotional health issues (known as EDPs). Yet, only 13% of NYPD officers receive sufficient training in de-escalating EDP situations. Moreover, the students learned, officers are randomly assigned to distress calls, regardless of their training. After learning that, in 2017 alone, at least 12 New Yorkers struggling with mental health issues were shot by the police, they were adamant that only those NYPD officers who are properly trained should respond to EDP calls. The students organized a petition drive to support an independent task force to address EDP shootings and, to accompany their petition results, wrote impassioned advocacy letters to decision-makers including Mayor Bill de Blasio and their local city council member.
Fifth graders in downtown Brooklyn chose to help improve relations between the New York City Police Department and the community. Deeply distressed by the police-related deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the students were especially concerned about police bias and inappropriate use of force. After meeting with the Civilian Complaint Review Board and police reform advocates, the class created a Know Your Rights brochure for youth in New York City. Their hope is that the more information young people have, the easier it will be for them to advocate for themselves in a safe and respectful way.