Bringing youth and police together in three poor Mexico City neighborhoods to forge urban peace is a challenge. But AFSC has embraced that challenge along with our partner AlianzaCivica. In February 2011 AFSC’s Debka Colson visited Mexico City to see first-hand how our work there is changing those neighborhoods.

In 2010 AFSC and AlianzaCivica launched a project in three Mexico City neighborhoods that experience high levels of violence, mainly from drug trafficking. In those neighborhoods 83 percent of people 15 to 24 have been victims of violent crime, and 64 percent of the victims have “little or no trust” in the police. No one feels safe; increasingly residents do not look to the police to provide security. 

The goal of the program is to strengthen community bonds by addressing the negative perceptions of the police on the street, as well as the police’s perceptions of young people living in the neighborhoods.During her visit Debka talked with participants in program-sponsored workshops, including police and young people from the communities. She was very impressed with their “sense of community, knowledge and enthusiasm”.

The police and youth are both key players in building urban peace.  Improvement in the day-to-day relationship of police with citizens is important in establishing bonds of trust and security to ensure the peaceful resolution of conflicts. As part of the program, monthly dialogue meetings are held between the police and community members to talk about what aggravates tensions and “humanize” each other.   The participants also have developed a manual called “Let’s Respect Each Other” as a guide for further reflection.

When Debka first met Sylvia, one of the policewomen involved in the program, she heard that police feel “that many young people were discourteous, or even aggressive, and this increases police suspicions about their activities.”

Sylvia walks the streets of the Popotla neighborhood and helps facilitate the workshops with young residents.  She spoke enthusiastically about the process, describing the sense of community when everyone came to the table at the same level to hear each other and share views. Sylvia believes that her participation in the program allows many of the young people to see her not just as an authority figure, but as a whole person with challenges and experiences similar to their own. 

Debka also met with some of the young people who explained that for most of their lives, adults have talked “at” them – not “to” them.  They explained that they had never had the chance to sit down and talk with police officers on the same level. For many of the young people participation in the workshops has changed their attitudes toward the police.

One young woman told a story of being approached by a police officer on the street.  Her first feeling was one of suspicion, but recallingher experiences in the workshops shechose to speak respectfully to the officer; she was amazed at how the tension dissipated and they were able to have a positive interaction.