Sunday, November 25, 2012

the police athletic league

The Police Athletic League is a non-profit organization which runs afterschool and summer programs for kids in inner-city neighborhoods. Though it was started by a Police Commissioner in 1914, it's not really staffed by police anymore. In the beginning, there were only "playstreets," which are blocked-off streets where unsupervised kids can play in the summer, guarded by friendly police officers. Playstreets are still around. These work to reduce prejudice, because often inner-city residents are biased against cops because of negative experiences that they or people that they know have had with law enforcement. The friendly and protective presence of cops would have certainly made the kids playing at the playstreets have a more neutral to positive view of cops.
My father worked for the PAL for almost all of his adult life, starting as a camp counselor and moving up to the director of counseling for all the afterschool centers in NYC. He worked in Hell's Kitchen as a counselor in the seventies, when there was still a really bad gang problem there amongst the Irish residents. Many of my dad's campers were the younger siblings of gang members, and they didn't respect my dad (who was from Connecticut, and straight out of college). In order to get their respect, my dad decided to get as good as he could at pool, a game that all the kids apparently revered. He played at pool halls for months, and finally was able to show off his skills to the kids at the pool table at the PAL center. With this, he could connect with the kids. I think this is a good demonstration of the contact hypothesis, because when the kids realized that my dad had a skill that they wanted, and when they felt that he was relatable, they were more willing to give them the time of day, and their respect.

No comments:

Post a Comment