DAVIDSON – Emphasizing knowledge as a vital tool for coping with a variety of situations, a high school student is partnering with local police to establish a higher level of understanding and improved relationships between young people and law enforcement.

Davidson Day School junior Carson Pauling, working with Davidson Police Chief Penny Dunn, has established the Get WOKE initiative targeting education as a primary tool to prevent interactions with police from escalating.

Pauling began piecing together aspects of the Get Working On Knowledge and Empowerment project in 2018 and, with support from Dunn, has scheduled the first Get WOKE program for Monday, April 22, at Davidson Town Hall. The event will begin at 6 p.m. and is open to everyone, with the targeted audience being those between the ages of 14 and 24.

“After seeing all the negative encounters with police in the media, especially those involving youth, I wanted to do something to help solve this issue,” Pauling said. “My goal for the program is to provide the perspectives of both sides and knowledge on how to property interact with police.”

Pauling, a lifelong Davidson resident, said the idea for the Get WOKE initiative was sparked through her participation in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department youth advisory council.

“It was informative, but I just didn’t feel like that was enough,” especially with all the negative attitudes toward law enforcement that have become prevalent,” she said. “On the advisory council, I got to see some of the inside, the background, but I thought it would be helpful if more people, especially young people, had that kind of access – had a better understanding of the police officer’s perspective.”

The ultimate goal, she said, is to provide young people with the basic knowledge and insight necessary to interact with law enforcement officers and help prevent violence while building stronger relationships between the community’s youth and its police officers.

“Davidson hasn’t really had to deal with the type of issues that have occurred in some other communities, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” Pauling said. “I believe this program will be a way to create better relationships, and be proactive to establish better communication and understanding.”

In promoting the first Get WOKE event, Pauling said she has reached out to all area high schools, Davidson College and local nonprofit organizations to encourage young people to participate.

In endorsing the program, Dunn said a higher level of understanding between police and young people would be a valuable asset when events require law enforcement response.

“We believe and strive to practice respect and dignity in our interactions with all members of the community,” Dunn said. “But that doesn’t mean an encounter with an officer will always go well. Misunderstandings are common in any interaction, and police encounters are no different.”

The Get WOKE seminar will include a panel discussion and a question-and-answer session. And live demonstrations of some common police-youth intersection scenarios – traffic stops, noise complaints and suspicious person calls – will also be a part of the program.

The demonstrations will explore behaviors that can shape police reactions, and explain the reasons behind specific law enforcement responses.

“This is where Carson’s idea really connects to the ‘knowledge’ and ‘empowerment’ of her Get WOKE program,” Dunn said. “When you have knowledge, you understand, and you are empowered in any interaction with another, including a police officer.”

Pauling said she hopes the Davidson event is the first of many Get WOKE programs. She said she initially tried to set up sessions in area high schools, but ran into some logistical obstacles. But now she believes the town hall setting could attract participants from multiple schools and lay the foundation for an expanded Get WOKE effort.

“The goal is for this to be the start, the first step,” she said. “I didn’t want to wait, I wanted this important conversation to get started.”

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