African American Youth

Below are categories for questions that have been answered by community members. Keep in mind that the following responses may represent many members of this group but do not represent all people in a community. Not all people from diverse populations conform to commonly known culture-specific behaviors, beliefs and actions. Each person is an individual, as well as a community member.

What cultural / ethnic / religious traditions or beliefs should law enforcement be aware of?

  • African Americans often have strong religious affiliations. Many are tied to Christian denominations, but a significant number also follow Islam.

What is the appropriate manner to greet you? (demeanor, non-verbal, body space, handshake, bow, male-female interaction etc.)

  • Recognize youth as people, don't judge by appearances.
  • Greeting is very important. - "Hi, how are you doing?" Establish rapport; introduce yourself and extend a handshake. Respect a youth's personal space.
  • Keep a calm composure and steady pace when approaching youth.
  • Keep a calm composure and steady pace when approaching youth. Youth recognize you are the authority figure.
  • Be conscious of where your hands are placed; resting your hand on your gun can be perceived as threatening. Be aware of your tone of voice (tone, pace, pitch, volume). For example, yelling does not help and will only escalate the situation.
  • Provide explanations in a clear and respectful manner. For example, "I want to ensure we are in a safe situation. Can you please show me your hands?" This will help youth comply and avoid confusion.

Who should be addressed or acknowledged first? Who is the head of the household?

  • Mother or father should be addressed first. Youth should be addressed in the presence of a parent or guardian. Youth may be uncomfortable speaking with officer because of parent or guardian's rules.

What is your view / perception of law enforcement? What are your experiences with law enforcement?

  • Certain actions by police officers can be perceived as placing themselves above the law instead of being enforcers of the law. For example, pulling over an individual for not wearing a seatbelt, when the officer was not wearing one before the stop. In addition, using sirens and flashing lights to speed through traffic lights; but then turning them off can be seen as there is no apparent emergency.
  • African American males expressed feeling harassed when approached by cops because they approached in an aggressive fashion and talked in a condescending manner. Avoid making generalizations and threats.
  • Police officers should be more approachable and tell youth what is happening. Make eye contact; police officers should remove their sun glasses to appear less intimidating. Youth want to feel safe, be respected, and be aware of the situation.
  • Youth behaviors such as pacing, fidgeting, and talking back are generally signs of distress from being in an uncomfortable situation. Youth may actually be venting their frustrations.
  • Youth may be reluctant to trust officers due to fear and past traumatic experiences with corrupt officers in their home countries.