‘Shooting Without Bullets’ Program Gives Youth Creative Outlet

April 25, 2017

Third-year CWRU law student, Amanda King, saw a need in the Cleveland community for young people to express their opinions and experiences about matters of social justice in an authentic manner. During the summer of 2016, King developed Shooting Without Bullets (SWB), a youth advocacy program that focuses on identity development in black and brown teens through photography, expressive arts healing and open dialogue.  As part of this effort, King embarked on a policy research project, which was supported and supervised by the Schubert Center for Child Studies and supported by the CWRU Law School, to understand how youth perspective expressed through the arts can inform and impact police reform and other criminal justice related reform in Cleveland and beyond. A brief for this research project will be released on April 18, 2017 as part of the Schubert Center’s Conversation Series Lecture, “From Strategies to Solutions: Cleveland’s Evolving Story of Improving Youth and Police Interactions.” 

King’s SWB, through the support of the ThinkBox, the Cleveland Foundation, and the Newbridge Center for Arts and Technology, has created a space for youth to explore how they see their neighborhoods as well as to navigate issues of systemic racism, police violence and discrimination. Throughout the 2016-2017 academic year, the program partnered with various organizations throughout Cleveland to hold pop-up exhibitions of the work of the youth photographers.  This program has provided a forum for improving communication between youth and police. 

“The collective voice of our young people is powerful beyond measure. We want the community, youth, police and citizen alike, to be transformed,” said Shemariah J. Arki, SWBs’ outreach coordinator. 

Enter the “Day of Justice” on February 14, 2017: The Golden Ciphers members began drumming on stage, while a backdrop of photos of black children and youth in various social actions, current and past, rolled on the large screen behind them, signaling that this town hall meeting of the Cleveland Community Police Commission (CPC) would be unlike any other.  King, who is a CPC Commissioner representing youth and the brainchild of the “Day of Justice” town hall, was joined by approximately 80 Cleveland youth and a number of special guests, including law enforcement and other CPC commission members, to hear and see opinions of police-youth interactions through expressive arts – music, rap, spoken word, drama and photovoice – and open dialogue. 

In partnership with SWB and several co-sponsors, including the CWRU Social Justice Institute and the Schubert Center for Child Studies, the Day of Justice featured a photo gallery of the SWB youth’s work and involved a variety of community speakers and sessions, including a session led by the Schubert Center’s Policy Director Gabriella Celeste who worked with the youth participants to demystify the Cleveland Policy Consent Decree. Questions like, “What are your earliest experiences of interactions with police? Why do you think police use force? What would you change about police-youth interactions?” sparked dialogue among the students, teachers, and Cleveland police officers in the session.  “A Citizen’s Guide to the Cleveland Police Consent Decree with a Special Focus on Young People,” was also released as part of this session to make the 105-page court-enforced agreement accessible to the general public, especially young people. This guide can be downloaded here: http://schubert.case.edu/2017/02/a-citizens-guide/.

The day ended with a call to action for young people to continue to bring their voice to the Cleveland police reform effort with specific recommendations for engagement. “King is simply a compelling force and a visionary”, says Celeste, “who with this Day of Justice helped to shine a light on how the creative expression of our young people can potently inform a significant social issue in our community and must be a part of the reform going forward.”

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