Like so many others, New York-area activist and president of the Truth Urban Theater Group Shadrack Boakye and his fellow actors are deeply disturbed by the persistent, unchecked police brutality waged against the black community. They have found themselves frustrated by the broken civilian-police relationships plaguing the aftermath of recent, particularly high-profile cases of violence. But rather than let their undeniably justified anger overpower them, they're harnessing their talent to create a unique and powerful solution, with a project they call Cards for Cops.
The inspiration: Cards for Cops was born from the theater group's discussions about issues like police brutality and lack of community trust. "We were really one-sided with the issue at that point," Boakye told Mic, adding that the group felt like they were "grieving" and wanted there "to be some repercussions."
The group spent months discussing how they could productively engage with police officers, start a dialogue and move forward. They ultimately decided to work with children to create thank-you cards for police officers and filmed themselves distributing the cards. "We felt that the easiest way to go up to an officer without making them feel uncomfortable is by giving them something that for everyone is easy to accept, which is a card," Boakye said.
The reception: One group member, Melee, told Mic that many officers "hesitated to take the cards at first," and some refused the cards altogether. Fellow group member Toni Byers-Paredes also hesitated, but ultimately found that the officers she interacted with were grateful for the act of kindness. "When we presented the cards, there was this moment when [the officers] realized they were getting something and they weren't getting yelled at," she said. "There was like this 'aha' moment that lit up their faces."
The project, according to Melee, is ultimately "about both sides and teaching everyone that all lives matter and making everyone see that we need to understand each other."
During the project, Boakye had conversations with police officers about their fears, their work and their dreams for the community. "We're not saying that all of them are great at what they do, but for those who are doing their best, I think they need to be on a spotlight; we need to celebrate them," he said.
"I think people wanted this," Byers-Paredes said. "I think people needed this, but they didn't know how to do it."
A better future: The group also hopes to change how police officers view civilians, especially people of color. "We want to change the perspective of the officers, the way they look at us," Melee said. He acknowledged that while stereotypes that depict all officers as "want[ing] to see us do bad[ly] and only want[ing] to beat down on us" may be false, police brutality does in fact persist. But by showing their appreciation for the positive work cops do, rather than universally condemning their failures, Boakye hopes the group provides "an opportunity for the cops to shift their paradigm and how they see us."
"Change does not come from anger," he said. "We can't get angry at each other. We just need to change the narrative."
Boakye and the Truth UTG hope to open up a much broader conversation through crafting social experiments and organizing community forums. "If you subscribe to ignorance, that's what you're going to get more of," Boakye said. But committing to starting a dialogue about these issues, he said, is what will ultimately create change — in his own community and, ideally, beyond.