Strengthening Police & Community Relations with Chess in Athens, Georgia.
Justice Served is an annual match up where local police officers face off with Athens youth in a friendly chess game. This competition was designed to encourage positive police and community relations in the Athens community.
“In many communities of color, there is a negative perception about police officers due to a history of police aggression,” Lemuel LaRoche, executive director of Chess and Community said. “This chess match only serves as one step in helping both the police and youth of color break the negative stereotypes about each other that's perpetuated in the media.”
LaRoche thought of the idea for Justice Served after multiple incidents of police shootings of unarmed men of color triggered a national outrage. He believes that these incidents have divided the country into two groups–those who believe that police are justified for using force when feeling threatened and those who believe that there are racist elements within the police force that targets communities of color and are often overlooked by our criminal justice system. The results of this is causing great mistrust towards police officers and the justice system.
“One major problem is the lack of positive engagement between police and communities of color,” LaRoche said. “Their are limited opportunities to interface with police officers outside of negative circumstances. Justice Served was created to counter that and help improve positive interaction and engagement with local police officers to avoid conflict in the Athens community.”
LaRoche believes bringing Athens youth and police officers together can benefit the Athens community because positive police and community relations is the hallmark of a safe community. When police officers have a favorable perception towards the community they serve, it reduces police aggression. When the community has a confident perception towards police officers, it builds trust, helps to reduce crime and creates positive police and community cooperation.
Officer Chambers is a part of the Athens-Clarke County police department. He’s participated in Justice Served multiple times and has multiple reasons that he believes Justice Served is positive for the community.
“The young future leaders in our community have taught me that you are never too wise to listen and learn,” Chambers said. “I believe that the most important part of the conference is socializing with new people and conversations with the youngsters.”
For LaRoche, watching Justice Served play out every year at the Chess and Community Conference never gets old.
“One of my favorite parts of the conference is watching the engagement,” LaRoche said. “To see a police officer in shock after losing a game from a 10 or 12-year-old. To see both police officers and kids laughing together. To watch a kid show the police officer his mistake on the chess board and vice-versa. This is important for many reasons. If the police were to see the same kid on the streets, a different relationship is born.”
On Saturday, March 23, 2019, we’ll be hosting our annual Chess and Community Conference at the Classic Center in Athens, GA. The conference includes a chess tournament, a scholarship competition, an art show, a tech corner, local vendors and Justice Served.
Chess and Community is a youth development organization that equips, exposes, and impacts youth with real world experiences through mentoring, traveling, and community service. Our programs are designed to expand students' perspectives on life and develop them to become leaders in their communities. Our Motto, "Think Before You Move," challenges youth to take charge of their future and become instruments for change. We offer four programs to assist youth in their expansion, while working diligently to foster positive communication and interaction within the Athens community. Visit www.chessandcommunity.org to learn more about this organization.