Sixth-graders got plenty of information from Illinois State Police officers about cyber-bullying, gangs and child pornography Tuesday afternoon at Oliver Parks Sixth Grade Center in Cahokia. Some information seemed to momentarily surprise them; while other information was greeted with a more blase attitude.
When “we’re going to be enforcing curfew” came up, the two officers from the Illinois State Police watched as waves of shock reverberated around the room of 250 students.
“Everything you see on TV, we do,” Lt. Timothy Tyler of Illinois State Police said.
Tyler moved to the metro-east a year ago to head up the Metro East Police Assistance Team, MEPAT for short. That includes knocking down gang members doors at 3 a.m., he said, as well as tracking suspects’ vehicles.
“Let me tell you what I really, really do. I put people in prison for 20 years...I know I don’t look it,” he said, acknowledging his 5’9” height and average build. “But I’m the guy.”
The leading cause of death in black men ages 13 to 34 is murder, Tyler said. He has investigated 400 homicides, he said, and “they’ve got my brown eyes, my tan skin; they remind me of my sons.”
Police officers are going to be proactive in neighborhoods, he said. “I have a duty to make sure you grow up,” Tyler said.
Trooper Calvin Dye Jr. told the students school administrators had asked the state police for assistance fighting cyber-bullying at the school. Many of the students were clad in school hoodies with “SWAT Stop Walk and Talk” on the back.
“Who can tell me what good character is,” he asked. “It’s when you do the right thing when an adult isn’t watching.”
Dye told the students that the murderers, rapists and armed robbers he has talked to have often had one thing in common: starting in fifth or sixth grade, they were bullying other students. He linked it to the cyber world, which the students are more familiar with as many raised their hands to show they have Facebook accounts, and nearly every hand went up to show cell phone ownership.
There are lifelong consequences to the choices they make now, he said, telling of a young teenage girl who sent her boyfriend a picture of herself “in her underclothes.”
“How many of you know that at age 10, we can fingerprint you?” he asked. Sending such pictures online is child pornography, he explained, and even a juvenile can be charged with child pornography.
After the presentation, A’Marus Sims, 12, Dejae Phipps, 13, Tamaya Kimble, 11 and Mariah Johnson, 12, agreed that parts of the officers’ talk were known to them, but other parts were surprising. One student confided of a bullying incident earlier in the day, that the student had not felt comfortable telling the school administration.
“I watch ‘Law & Order,’” Tamaya said, and she already knew about cyber bullying but not about some of the gang information. She said cyber bullying would not be a problem for her, because her parents, aunts and others are all on her social media accounts and keep an eye on her activities.
“I didn’t know they can take your fingerprints,” A’Marus said.
Tyler has been working with students for about three weeks, but they knew him only as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, which he is. They’ve been working on self-esteem skills and anti-bullying, and the students had asked for undercover officers and canine demonstrations, which he arranged.
“I didn’t want to come to them as a police officer, kids tend to shut down,” he said before the presentation.
Tyler and Dye both talked about how some actions the sixth-graders take now can follow them for the rest of their lives, detailing how extensive the background checks are for law enforcement, military and some other careers.
“Once you’re in the system as a gang member, you’re in there for life,” Tyler said. “Some of you guys are going to be running this country... don’t let a little mistake ruin that.”