What's changed since 'hyphy' bust?

Just over a year ago, hundreds of teens converged on a downtown Modesto nightclub to dance away what remained of the summer.

The problem: The club holds 300 and more than 1,000 showed up, according to police.

That left several hundred teens out on the streets, too young to go into the bars and other clubs but not too young to cause some problems outside. Reports of violence surfaced -- beatings and other thuggery. The officer in charge of the downtown made an 11-99 call, code for "officer needs help."

Dozens of officers from throughout the county responded that night, Sept. 3, 2006, and the scene turned ugly all the way around. Police arrested 17 people, many of them teens from Modesto even though the event also drew people from the Bay Area and Stockton.

Police blamed the incident on "hyphy," a dance culture they said encourages street racing and anarchy. Some residents claimed the police overreacted to something they don't understand and accused them of specifically targeting African-American youths as the officers tried to quell the disturbance.

A year has passed. What's happened since?

Has there been a concerted effort to begin building a trust between the police and the African-American community?

It's pretty tough to develop trust when many African-Americans maintain they're frequently the victims of racial profiling -- citing arrests of black teens during the hyphy event among other incidents -- while Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said race wasn't the issue that night nor any other.

"When we have injuries and fallout from misguided behavior, no matter what anybody wants to say, that had nothing to do with race," Wasden said. "It had to do with the anarchy out of this genre (hyphy)."

So what we have here are two entities addressing different concerns in different ways.

Wasden said his organization is better trained and equipped should another incident like last year's hyphy event occur.

"We said at the time the mistakes we made were not being prepared," Wasden said. "We changed the approach, the planning."

Meanwhile, a town hall meeting several days after the event drew about 200 people to the Second Baptist Church in west Modesto. Members of the audience charged -- some of them angrily -- that the police harassed good, innocent kids. They suggested that represented a problem of a much larger scale.

"Part of the large response was not about September 3rd," said Wendy Byrd, president of the local NAACP chapter. "September 3rd was just the straw that broke the camel's back."

The hyphy event precipitated a leadership change in the NAACP, with Byrd replacing Willie McDaniel in February and being more vocal in the community as well as more critical of the police than her predecessor.

The tension appeared to have subsided soon after the town hall meeting even though perceptions haven't changed much.

"We (the African-American community and the police) had some dialogue, but it died out," Byrd said. "We all tend to be crisis-oriented. We only want to meet when there's a problem. Once we think things are better, there's not as much urgency. It's not the meetings that change things, but it's the follow-up."

And therein lies the extent of their common ground: Both sides agree there hasn't been much follow-up.

"We're open to meeting," Wasden said. "We do want to work with these young people."

When does it begin? Who blinks first, particularly when many young African- Americans believe they are watched more closely and questioned more frequently by police than people of other races.

Kyle Anderson, 15, a Modesto High sophomore and a member of the school's track team, said he often runs in the early mornings in his neighborhood along Oakdale Road before going to school.

"I'll go jogging at 4 a.m.," he said. "Four out of 10 times, I'll get pulled over. They'll ask me what I am doing, what I was doing the night before."

Byrd said African-Americans continue to have trust issues with the police, and it's getting worse.

"We're (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) seeing an increase in complaint forms," she said. "There's been an increase in the incidents where there's been the use of excessive force, and that's nationwide. What's happening around Modesto is happening around the nation."

Modesto police statistics for 2006 show officers used force 2.4 percent of the time when arresting African-Americans compared to 1.7 percent against Asians, 1.1 percent against whites and 1 percent against Latinos.

Wasden said every use-of- force incident results in an internal affairs investigation reviewed on an individual basis. He reiterated that his officers react to the actions of those arrested, not to their race. Officers routinely face an increasingly more combative public, he said.

"Why is there less of a willingness to cooperate?" Wasden said.

African-American community leaders such as John Ervin and Tim Daniels have offered proactive solutions. They've organized a group of men who volunteer their time as role models for black youths who come from single-parent families. Nationally, 70 percent of black children in the United States are born out of wedlock and raised by single parents, the majority of whom are mothers.

In the Modesto group's first year, 23 youngsters are working with mentors, Ervin said.

Recently, African-American youths attended a Monday night support group at the Victory and Praise church in north Modesto, where they learned job-seeking and other skills.

"Most of the young men didn't have fathers in their home," Byrd said. "They had to learn how to tie a necktie."

Ervin, the NAACP, the city of Modesto and the Paradise South Weed & Seed Project combined to offer Friday night activities at the Maddux Youth Center in west Modesto.

"We have something for the kids where they can work together and socialize," said DeBorah Jones, who oversees the 8 p.m.-to-midnight sessions.

The NAACP last month staged community forum nights on a local radio station, giving callers a show to tell their stories about police brutality, followed by one giving police time to respond, and a third show focusing on solutions.

But I question whether encouraging anonymous callers to tell of their unpleasant encounters with police -- with no proof or substantiation -- is the most effective way to get the cops to address the issues.

What seems to be missing here is real communication, said Greg Savage, an associate pastor with the predominantly African-American Christ Unity Baptist Church in downtown Modesto.

He believes parents, police and children need to be more honest and upfront with each other in addressing problems.

"We have a whole generation separated from what the truth is," Savage said. "The political correctness that allows people to say, 'The truth for me isn't the truth for you.' But there's only one truth. We're so worried about offending people that we don't tell the truth."

Savage, a former police officer who now works in the auto industry, said he understands why the Modesto officers reacted as they did when the call came in on the night of the hyphy concert.

"I didn't see a problem with the police procedures," Savage said. "A call like that goes out, you come in expecting the worst."

The fact remains that a group of teens, many of them from Modesto, got out of hand in downtown Modesto that night. It comes down to parents doing a better job of raising their kids, Savage said.

"It goes back to upbringing," he said. "The youth of this generation are very prideful. They don't want to back down. We talk to our kids here (at the church). We have mentoring programs. But it goes back to the parents."

Michael Elder, a 19-year-old African-American from Lathrop, said he was downtown the night of Sept. 3, 2006, but left before the trouble began.

"You could see it building," he said. Elder, who plans to become a doctor, is a sophomore at California State University, East Bay, in Hayward. He said the media play a major role in creating problems between African- Americans and the police.

"You turn on a TV video and see African-American males running from the police," he said. "It's a bad image. I've had friends who have had run-ins with cops, and it's usually because they did something wrong."

Police, meanwhile, must ensure that the residents they are sworn to protect are, indeed, protected and not targeted because of the color of their skin.

It's clear that whatever is or isn't being done isn't working.

Consequently, Reneé Crawford of Modesto, whose daughter Alicia said she was shoved by police during the hyphy event, believes it's time to change the dialogue and the approach in order to begin developing a trust.

She suggests that the police stage the parties, offering the kids a safe and controlled environment for socializing.

"Let them party like human beings and be there to protect them," said Crawford, a social worker for Stanislaus County. "Let the cops do something for the kids, and the kids will see them as friends."

In other words, replace the rhetoric with real communication by eliminating the middlemen, Crawford said.

"The parents and cops aren't getting anywhere," she said. "Maybe it should be between the cops and the kids."

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com of 578-2383.