To their surprise, youth from the Anacostia community in Southeast faced some unlikely challengers in their annual flag football game: D.C. police officers.
The adolescents and a few willing officers came together for a Turkey Bowl and Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, Nov. 17 at Anacostia Park to begin a dialogue that will improve the perception of police.
“Today was a great first step in the right direction,” said Andrea Counts, executive director of The House DC, a community organization geared toward children. “We got to connect with Code 3, which is an organization of police officers who wants to build a relationship with the community. They came out for flag football and dinner.
“We want to make sure we get some workshops going, training, make sure we educate the cops on the community as well as them educating us on what they do and who they are,” Count said
In its 18th year, The House DC serves as safe space for kids year-round in the Anacostia community with programs, after-school care, dinner and Christian-based life skills.
Some of the teens from the The House DC had suspicions they were playing against cops, but they couldn’t be sure.
“We look just like them,” said Detective King Watts, a 28-year MPD veteran and native Washingtonian said. “A lot of times when they think of police they think of negative stuff, they don’t think we do the same things they do, or participate in the same sports they do. This is a way to show them we are just like they are.”
The youth defeated the police in flag football, then during dinner the officers revealed their identities.
“When they found out it was police officers, they did think it was pretty cool that they came out to play with them,” Counts said. “They were excited and they are looking forward to doing more things in the future with them.”
DeQuwan Smith, youth outreach manager at The House DC, said the idea of concealing the officers’ identity was to prevent any preconceived notions.
“We wanted to conceal their identities because we didn’t want anyone to get discouraged,” he said. “You know how one person will say, “I ain’t playing with them,” and then the rest will want to follow. I think this has definitely brought a different outlook that they are people just trying to do their job.
“The police get a pretty bad rap with the recent events going on in the community so we’re trying to give them the chance, and they want a chance to get closer to our youth and get over the fear that everybody seems to have,” Smith said.
Kevin Copeland, D.C. area coordinator for Code 3, said that his organization will do more than just bring the community and police together.
“This is the first of a series of things we are going to do so that we can iron out some of our differences,” he said. “We want to get you guys back in school if you’re not in school. If you’re looking for apprenticeships programs, GED, job readiness, Code 3 will help, but we need your help as well.
“I’m a retired detective, 28 years on the police department and I’m back in the community working from a different perspective — I’m helping, I’m providing and I’m giving,” Copeland said to the youth at the dinner. “If you tell me you need something from the program, we are going to get that in the program to make this thing bigger and better.”