by Madison Marko – Op-ed Editor
The Black Student Union had a meeting with law enforcement officers during the club’s gathering Nov. 9. Four police officers attended, including Carl Bonnell and Andrew McCurdy, the chief of the Covington Police Department.
The Black Student Union was founded last February by Aaron Benson, the club’s advisor, with the help of sophomores Bri’Nyah Jones and Magnifique Niyonizeye. Benson said, “The goal for me is to really just provide a safe space within the school that kids can come to and share their experiences, challenges, build a community, and learn.”
Benson said what prompted the meeting between the club and the officers was a week in July after two African American men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, were killed by police. The following Friday five Dallas police officers were killed. Benson said, “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, what would I do on a week like this if school was in session and we had a Black Student Union meeting?’”
He then went to the Covington Police Department to talk with Chief McCurdy. Benson said, “We had a wonderful conversation where he shared some different perspectives that I wasn’t hearing about in the news, and I left the meeting feeling a lot better about these situations. The first thought that came to mind was that I need to give the students that I work with the space to have those conversations as well. We began after that planning to have the meeting.”
Chief McCurdy said, “I was looking forward to the opportunity but I had no idea how welcoming the students would be. I truly believe that the biggest problem we are facing today as police officers is that people only see us for our uniform. I am trying to meet with as many people as possible, even if the conversation may feel uncomfortable at first, so that they can get to know us as unique individuals and so that we can get to know them as individuals as well.”
Jordyn Mitchem, a sophomore and the club’s treasurer, said, “My initial thoughts on the idea of the meeting was that there is no way in hell that it was going to work. I had faith in the club, but I felt that there are some of us who didn’t have great experiences with cops. I figured it would be a little rocky.”
During the meeting, the club members sat in a big circle, the officers intermixed. The officers introduced themselves and each of them shared their journey to law enforcement. After that, they opened it up so the club members could ask questions they had about policing and the shootings that had been happening.
Despite some reservations going in, all parties agreed that the meeting went well. Benson said some of the things that came from the meeting were community building, understanding, and empathy. Mitchem agreed and said, “Overall the meeting was great. We got a little more insight into how the cops have to deal with things and how not everything is as easy as it seems. I feel like the cops and security got a point of view that we don’t have it easy either. It’s not just go to school, come home, do your homework. It’s not the simple for us, it’s a more complex way of feeling things.”
Chief McCurdy said, “I was very impressed with the group of students for their willingness to ask difficult questions and share their stories and concerns. I was also very happy to see that they were open to hearing what we had to say. The dialogue was very open, honest, and respectful and I was appreciative of them giving us the opportunity.”
Although the club doesn’t have any more scheduled meetings with the officers, Benson said that there is definitely hope for more in the future.
The Black Student Union meets on Wednesdays after school in room 1620.