By Renée Roden
Despite the 87-degree afternoon heat, officers from the 24th Precinct were grinning through their sweat.
Sporting their blue jerseys and T-Shirt, emblazoned with the “Titans” logo of the precinct, the officers squared off on the basketball courts in Frederick Douglass Playground on 101st Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Scattered among their ranks, several neighborhood youths passed the ball back and forth to their Titan teammates. Due to the low numbers of neighborhood kids who showed up, both teams were made up of officers from the 24th and neighborhood kids.
The game was a follow-up to a spontaneous match that Youth Coordination Officers Navarro and Rosado had initiated on Tuesday.
“We played here Tuesday. A couple kids were here, and we said to them ‘do you guys wanna come play,’ and we ended up playing them,” says Navarro. They called in the Neighborhood Coordination Officers Lopez & Mauras to round out their team, and they had a game.
Only one of Tuesday’s participants showed up for the re-match, and he said that the officers had out-performed them on Tuesday. But word had spread, and a few new players showed up to try out the re-installed basketball hoops. Hoops were added throughout the city this week as New York entered Phase 3 of reopening.
“Word spreads around,” said one new player, Jordan, who heard about this game from word of mouth. Another participant, Kareem, had seen information posted on Instagram. Jordan said the game “brings out what’s best for the community to have a good relationship,” between cops and the neighborhood kids. He hoped that fostering good feeling and “a better connection means a better future for everyone, for the cops and for the kids themselves.”
Officer Navarro said the bystanders on Tuesday were encouraging and positive. Navarro reported bystanders telling her, “With everything going on, we like that you guys are trying to connect with the kids, playing with them.”
Today’s pickup game provided an opportunity for continued connection and dialogue. Along the sidelines, a precinct officer and several of the players continued to dialogue about hot-button issues. They discussed white privilege, racism, Trump, and bail reform. “By white privilege, I don’t mean that all white people are rich,” Kareem explained to the officer, “but I mean that the color of your skin gets you certain things, it creates less tension in certain situations.” He continued, “I’m more likely to be accused of a crime than a white person.”
Neither the officer nor her interlocutors saw eye-to-eye on these issues, and no one’s mind seemed to be changed, but the interchange of ideas on the sidelines seemed even-tempered and respectful.
Navarro and Rosado said they hoped to do more sports events with the neighborhood kids in the future, COVID-allowing. The officers had a hand sanitation station set up on a table and masks for the players to wear during game breaks. “We’re gonna try to do a football game,” said Navarro, “but with COVID, it’s hard to do.”
After two games in the hot sun, the teams called it a day. And since the teams had been integrated, both cops and kids could declare victory.