Denver Cops and Youth Share Fears, Frustrations

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Police and Youth
Denver officer Denise Gomez stands with her group. A'Dontae Thomas, 16, is second from left and David Rodriquez, 19, is 5th from left.

This story originally aired on 11/20/2015.

On a recent Saturday, some very personal conversations took place between two groups who don't always see eye to eye. Denver police and minority youth got together to talk about how they view one another. It was one of several forums being held by the city's police watchdog, the Office of the Independent Monitor, to try to defuse tension between the two groups -- tension that's made headlines in metro Denver and across the country.

About a dozen officers came to the forum along with about 60 young people. Initially, they broke up into small groups and then met at the end to talk about what they learned.

We talked with Officer Denise Gomez, 16-year-old A'Dontae Thompson of Aurora and 19-year old David Rodriquez of Denver to talk about what they learned at the gathering. Both young men came with the organization GRASP -- Gang Rescue and Support Group. It helps young people in metro Denver who are in gangs or at risk of joining a gang.

Read excerpts from the conversation below.

Thompson on what he learned at the forum:

"Not all officers are bad. Not all officers are the same. They're people like us, too... Today, talking to officer Denise, it made me realize that she's not out there to just like target us. They're out there to do their job."

Gomez on what she learned from Thompson and Rodriquez:

"I actually learned their perspective. I think one of the people in the class said that when they get contacted by officers, their first thought is, 'Am I going to go to jail or am I going to die?' And when you approach youth, maybe keep that in mind, that they're afraid of what's going to happen."

Gomez on why she attended the forum with minority youth:

"It's gotten to the point where it's dangerous, where an officer will talk up to a youth who is doing something that is against the law or an officer has reasonable suspicion that they've done something... and the youth are not listening... They call names, they try to walk away, or run or fight, and it's very dangerous for the youth and for officers. So I just hope that by doing this we can make an impact with officers and youth so we can learn that middle ground."

Rodriquez on whether the forum will change how he interacts with police:

"I'm going to still kind of be afraid -- not as much as I used to be, but I don't know what kind of police officer, I don't know if he's a good one or a bad one, I'm not going to know if he's having a bad day and he stopped me because he's having a bad day. But I'm not going to be as afraid, thinking of running or doing something stupid because we learned our rights, we know how to take precaution. Everybody's going to still be afraid of when an officer approaches him."