(But I'm an L.A. Cop)
In 2009, I was frustrated with the lack of cooperation between our police division and the probation department. Skid Row was being flooded with drug dealers who were on probation and who were not homeless, but were acting under the guise of it to push crack, weed, and heroin in and around drug programs in Skid Row.
Crime was still down, but with the aforementioned influx, I saw how the community’s progress could be set back.
I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went to speak to a Chief Probation Officer and confronted him head on. I was never known to use the chain of command. Not because I did not believe in it, but because sometimes there is always a weak link in the chain that either doesn't get your vision or will steal your vision.
I stormed into this man's office and we had it out verbally. I realized I had met my match because he had a whole list of issues with us as well.
As he spoke of all he was up against, he mentioned that on top of all of his responsibilities, he also ran a high school for kids on probation.
This caught my ear. My Just Like U program for kids was active and I needed to build on it. I redirected the tone of the meeting and told him that I wanted to mentor his kids. He liked the idea and set up the first meeting for the following week saying to me, "Let's see if you can put your money where your mouth is. These kids aren't easy, Joseph.”
The following week, I went to Judge Moore School in South L.A. I could not find the school in the area. I called the director and he said, "Oh. It doesn't look like a school. There is a big metal fence that you can't see into on the corner. Do you see it?” I did. I walked up to the gate and had to be buzzed in via an intercom.
As I was let in, I was inside of what can be compared to a prison yard. I saw young black teen boys on the left side of the yard talking and jostling. And on the other side, I saw a group of Hispanic teen boys working out.
I thought to myself, "Oh hell no. Lord, I can't fix these kids! What have I gotten myself into? I'm just an L.A. Cop, Lord!"
As I walked through the yard, the looks on their faces were telling. Some had a look of sheer hate while others had a look of fear is if I was there to arrest somebody. Each one began trying to figure out which one of them was going to the station with me. One spit on the ground as I walked by. I just gave him the side eye and said, "Yeah, I hear you son."
The teacher called them into the class. As he quieted them, I waited outside the door to be called in. I took a deep breath and asked God what I should say to them.
Something stirred in my spirit. I kept hearing in my head, "Tell them you love them." I was worried because I did not know how it would be received. Would I be seen as a weak person? Would I be laughed at based on all they heard about cops?
I was never one to question God. So as the teacher introduced me, I entered and the first thing I said to those young men was that I was not there to disrespect them or their families. I was not there to arrest them or juice them for information. I was not there for PR for my department or any self-serving reason. I was there because I loved them, and wanted them to live past 25 and never set foot inside of a prison cell.
I explained that my love for them would not stop me from doing what I had to do to keep people safe from crime should they choose that life. But I would rather plant positive seeds in them so they would never see another pair of handcuffs or even worse, the grave before their time.
I stood back and waited for the jeers and mocking. It did not happen. I had their full attention and poured my heart out to them for an hour.
When I was done, I left to silence. Feeling stupid for being so vulnerable, I went back to Skid Row.
A week later, I got a call from the school stating that the kids wanted me back. The teacher said I was the first person to ever hold their attention for more than 10 minutes.
I went back once a month for seven months pouring into them. I invited personal heroes of mine to tell them how they escaped crime, poverty and death. An original Crip volunteered to help. A man I found in a dumpster who credited me with turning his life around. A lawyer who grew up in foster care, lived in vans and survived abuse, but somehow managed to get a law degree came as well. Even my wife volunteered to discuss how poor choices affect those who truly love you.
God was not just showing up. He was showing out for these kids. My last meeting with them was a tour of Skid Row. They were truly affected by it. As always, members of the Skid Row community would show up to help send a message to the kids that they did not belong there.
After our last meeting, I could not engage in the program due to being stuck on special details all of the time as well as an increase in crime, yet they never left my thoughts and prayers.
In June, as the school year closed, I received a card from the school. A letter inside credited me with helping them to raise their grades one level.
Love worked, and the fire in me to help others grew evermore. Yes, I am an L.A. Cop, and God helped me do the incredible once again.
Never let what you do overshadow who you are. Use it as a vessel to share genuine love from a place people do not expect it.