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Hartford Cop, Student Honored By White House for Repairing Relations

WNPR/David DesRoches
Kayke Lopes and Officer Hiram Otero were honored by the White House for their work in the Good Vibrations program.

The White House recently honored a Hartford teenager and a police officer for their efforts to improve relationships between cops and young people. 

Seventh-grader Kayke Lopes used to think that police officers were only around to scare and arrest people.

"But then when I went to the program, I got to meet them personally, and I got to see and know that they actually help you with your problems," said Lopes, who attends the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy. 

The Good Vibrations program, created by Rabbi Donna Berman of the Charter Oak Cultural Center, placed Hartford kids into music programs along with police officers. Lopes learned to rap alongside Officer Hiram Otero.

Listen below to officers and students rap in the song:

The two formed a friendship along the way, and were honored earlier this month by Vice President Joe Biden as Champions of Change.

Otero said it was a big step toward improving relationships between cops and kids.

"Oftentimes, kids or youth become the product of their environment, so you know, they didn't choose this," Otero said. "I think that they need that opportunity. As a cop in Hartford, I'm tasked to uphold the law -- yes, that's what I was sworn to do. But ultimately, the goal is to help people and give them that opportunity."

Last year, a teenager was Tasered by Hartford Police, an incident that led to protests against police brutality. The department joined Good Vibrations to repair the broken trust. 

Credit The White House
The White House
Police officers and youth awarded by the White House as "Champions of Change."

Otero said that rapping alongside kids about important issues helped them break stereotypes.

"I get down to their level and say, 'Listen, I'm not here to hurt you. I'm here to help you. I'm here to be your friend. To create a bond. To break down those negative barriers.'" Otero said. "So we want to succeed together. We have to build Hartford up, and how do we build it up? Building the youth."

For Lopes, he and friends can see cops as people.

"We wouldn't like -- when we see a cop car -- we wouldn't tug our mom, and say, 'Mom, mom, it's a cop,'" Lopes said. "We would say, 'Oh look, I think I know that cop.' And they can stop by, roll down their window, and say, 'Hey, what's up.'"

Good Vibrations is one of several programs across Connecticut that have been working to strengthen community ties since the shooting death of Michael Brown by an officer in Ferguson Missouri last year.  

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.

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