Across the country, there are many stories of young people and police officers at odds, but last Friday at the
Blackstone Community Center basketball court, the odds were on a competitive and fun game between City kids and the officers that patrol their neighborhood.
It’s a simple concept, but one that has worked for several years during the OneHood basketball league at Blackstone. Every year, usually in August, the league brings its best players together to go against the best players in the Boston Police Department for one night only.
The result has been some very competitive games – with both sides playing tough ball – but it has also resulted in young people and police forging closer relationships that don’t have anything to do with enforcing the law.
Such relationships have always been valuable, but never have they been more critical than now.
“I’ve been coming down here for five years frequently,” said Officer Manny Canuato. “It’s very important that they know me at a time when it has nothing to do with enforcement. It’s about building the public trust. These kids know me and know my name and I’m not just another officer. That’s important. I see them all over the city – at bus stops or train stations. They’ll come up and talk to me and that shows the trust they have in me.”
Trust they might have, but they certainly weren’t interested in letting police get the best of them. In Friday’s game, OneHood All-Stars like Johnny Ortiz, Devin Mitchell, Zachye Owens and Miguel Cotto gave the police all they had. The OneHood players rained threes and the police worked the muscle inside. Soon enough, it was just a very competitive game of basketball.
“This is a model program,” said Dep. Supt. Gerard Bailey. “When we can get the police officers interacting with the youth, we do, whether with basketball or some other activity. It’s a chance for us to get to know each other in a different venue. It’s very competitive. The police hate to lose and the kids do too. It really breaks down barriers.”
Danny Mulhern, of Mayor Martin Walsh’s office of public safety, has been involved for several years – even before he was in his current position. He said OneHood has helped kids in the South End come together from the various different areas – whether Cathedral, Lenox, Villa Victoria or Mandela. It also helps with getting kids face to face instead of on social media, where anonymity can escalate feuds quickly.
“We’ve been involved with OneHood for a very, very long time,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for police and young kids from the neighborhood to have a different type of conversation that is outside the box of enforcement activity. It’s really creating a trust and a positive relationship with the kids we play with and the young people here watching…This group of officers keeps a very busy schedule playing ball with the kids. They are all over the city playing three or four times a month without any fanfare or media. The annual game with the police and the OneHood All-Stars is fun and competitive and a great night for all of us.”