When the kids in 16-year-old Tyree Thomas’ backyard get together to shoot hoops they not only learn how to be better on the court,
They learn life lessons to apply off the court.
Those lessons come courtesy of Gainesville police officer Bobby White, whose idea to set up at basketball court in Thomas’ backyard as a means of improving relations between the police and youths in the community became an Internet sensation earlier this year. Recently, Thomas and many of the other youths featured in the “Basketball Cop,” video discussed how they felt about the police since that time.
Thomas says that White has influenced them by providing them with life tips.
“Yeah because he wants us to be safe and stay in school, [and] not be bad and all,” Thomas said.
Pierre Toney, 15, said White has shown him a different side of police work.
“It shows like a cop can be better than what cops are shown as,” Toney said. “[It shows] what the principle of cops really means to them. It changed the whole perspective of things.”
But some of the kids that play at the court with Thomas said they still question police motives on occasion.
Darryl Lewis, 17, said he had an altercation with the police recently. He said that even though some officers are like White, he can’t expect them all to treat him the same way.
“It seems pretty good, but to be honest, last week I had an interaction with the police and it didn’t end well,” Lewis said. “I didn’t do anything but I was finna’ get a ticket for somebody else saying something. I mean Officer White [is] cool, but I’m still sort of skeptical about other police.”
The distrust of police expressed by Lewis, however, is not news to White.
“I believe that there’s kind of a disconnect between our nation’s youth and the police,” White said. “And I think that’s because of social media, it’s because of the news, because there’s a not-so-pretty side of police work that gets highlighted on the news whenever we have to use force or whenever we have to put hands on somebody as a necessity of the job.”
White said the only way the perception is going to change is if more police officers get out and interact with the youth in a positive way like he did by playing basketball with a group of teens.
“They don’t get to interact with police officers one on one and we need to change that,” White said. “We need to change that. And us as police officers are the only ones that are going to change that by getting out there and interacting with the kids whenever we have an opportunity.”
White said he meets up with Thomas or checks on the kids at the court at least once a week and is continuing to try and build a positive relationship with the youth in Gainesville.
White has been able to show the kids that were involved with the Basketball Cop story that police can also be their friends.
“I think at least here in my community, the kids recognize me immediately,” White said. “So instead of ‘that’s a police officer that we’re not so sure about, if he’s our friend or not, we’ve seen the news’ they’re recognizing me as basketball cop and a police officer who’s their friend. So, I think it’s having a huge impact.”