Junior Creates Change for the Oakland Police Department

Harper Valentine describes her organization Oakland Youth Cohort and the importance of youth-led police reform.


Danica Terk, Contributor

Police relations with Oakland Youth are an urgent issue. Harper Valentine, a 16-year old student at Bishop O’Dowd, recently began a new youth-led organization, Oakland Youth Cohort, designed to create a new policy for the Oakland Police Commission. The organization is part of the Coalition for Police Accountability and is aimed at promoting youth civic engagement as well as improve youth relations with Oakland police officers. In an interview with Harper, she described the project as “a stepping stone for youth organizations to formulate and build on their own policies.”

The Coalition for Police Accountability is a foundational organization in Oakland. Rashidah Grinage has been working with the CPA for decades and has become a guide and mentor for Harper. Oakland organizations such as the Oakland Youth Advisory Commission and Black Organizing Project work closely with the CPA, creating a voice for the voiceless.

Youth relations with police officers have been tumultuous for decades and have negatively impacted children in many fashions. The school-to-prison pipeline is a critical issue that results from early interaction with police officers, especially in the Oakland Unified School District. Harper explains, “When you message to kids that they’re criminals from the age of fourteen, it undeniably reinforces that they have no choice but to follow the ‘predetermined path,’ that is the school to prison pipeline.” Although the George Floyd Resolution removed police officers from schools, unfortunately, the school-to-prison pipeline is not the only area where police interaction proves harmful. Over-policing across Oakland has targeted Black youth, as Black children make up 29.3% of the youth population, but 72.5% of juvenile arrests.

Harper has been interning with the Coalition for Police Accountability for about a year. The Coalition created the Oakland Youth Cohort to help strengthen police and youth interactions. Harper was inspired to head the project and is now beginning to organize the group’s goals and passions in order to form their policy. The group is still in the “pilot stage,” but Harper and her team are currently applying for nationwide grants. Harper recently applied for a $10-15 thousand grant with Prudential Emerging Visionaries with the Ashoka Changemakers.

Harper argued that Oakland youth has had “no seat at the table” even in regards to issues that directly impact them. In particular, relations with youth and police have been strained for years.  Harper emphasizes, “Abolition is the absolute goal. Kids need instant relief until abolition is possible.”

Harper is hopeful that her project will make Oakland a healthier and safer environment for children. She also believes that there is much-needed change across the city, and with youth getting inspired to make a stand in their community, the change can actually occur.