How two high schoolers are building police trust in Romulus

They're fed up with the all too familiar images of police brutality from Ferguson to New York; South Carolina to Baltimore; and right next door in Inkster.

"It's really scary. That's why we decided to do this in our community because we don't want something like that happening in our community," says Romulus High School student Jewel Michael.

She and fellow student Kyra Brooks led the rally against police brutality for their senior project. Their parents and classmates marched alongside them, as well members of the Romulus police department. 

"It's important that we show them that we are on their side. We're also against police brutality," says public safety director Jadie Settles. "When we heard about these two young ladies, the project that they [were] putting out, the first thing we did was reach out to them make this a success. Let's help them out."

"We wanted to include the police because we wanted to work with each other, not work against each other, and we wanted to bring unity to our community," says Brooks. 

After pounding the pavement, Michael and Brooks led a panel discussion - straight talk about policing, race and bias.

Residents, community leaders, current and former law enforcement officers got open and honest about what they experience day in and day out, and about  the social factors that often lead to crime. This, in hopes of bridging the gap that often divides police departments and the people they serve. 

In Romulus, the gap is narrowing.

"If your community is 45 percent African American, guess what? You need to build up your police department to look like your community," says former chief Robert Dickerson.

He says Romulus has come a long way, increasing the number of black cops from 8 percent in 2011 to 25 percent now.

And, just as important as who they are hiring is who they're not. About three years ago, Romulus rejected an application from then-Inkster cop William Melendez.

"Everybody back then knew his reputation. And, knowing that, as you review an application, you learn to weed out people with backgrounds of aggressive nature," says Dickerson.

Melendez is now facing criminal charges in the beating of Floyd Dent.

"It was scary to think that we almost had that police officer right here in our own community, and the things he did in Inkster actually could've happened here in Romulus," says Brooks.

During the panel, both officers and residents talked about the need of building trust on both sides of the badge. In Romulus, Brooks and Michael are helping to make it happen.

"We want a solution. We want peace. We want not just to bring attention to police brutality, but bring attention to the solution," says Michael.
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