Neighborhood Blue

A monologue about a Latina woman who is confronted by the police in her home starts a conversation about community policing and law enforcement. Featuring conversations with a young Afro-Latina woman who channels her Puerto Rican father's stories about law enforcement into her writing and activism, Michael J. Chitwood, a police chief with a 53-year career in law enforcement, and Vashti Dubois and Dubois Stewart, a mother and son in the wake of a stop and frisk.


You come into this neighborhood and police it when you feel like it. And because you’re at the top, and we’re at the bottom you think you got us all figured out: we’re all just thugs. But you don’t know me...
— from "Neighborhood Blue" by Autumn Angelettie

When Autumn Angelettie was given an assignment in her creative writing class to write a monologue about something that has been on her mind recently, she chose to write about community policing.

“I think when I was a kid the way I was taught to think about police officers was respect them, keep your distance,” Autumn, a young Afro-Latina woman, said when asked about how she feels about police. “Don’t really interact because things can go wrong really quickly.”

For Dubois Stewart, a young African American man, the latter sentiment flashed through his mind when he was stopped and frisked by the police for the first time recently. “I was terrified” he said. “I seriously thought I wouldn’t go away unharmed.”

Dubois’ mother, Vashti, knew this day would come. “We practiced,” she said, in order to avoid what could have happened. “It could’ve gone badly. It could’ve gone really badly. For no reason.”

For communities of color, relationships with police are precarious, to say the least. Because this keeps happening. Again and again and again.

The ongoing trauma has negative effects for communities and families on both sides of the badge.

For law enforcement officers, like Michael J. Chitwood, Superintendent of the Upper Darby Police, the pursuit of public safety is about working in the community to build relationships, trust, and familiarity. So when something goes fatally wrong, it’s a setback.

“Everybody deserves the opportunity to educate their children to sit down on their step to walk their dog and to enjoy life,” Chitwood says. “And that’s what our goal is. And I think sometimes we do it. But it’s a constant, continual being out there, being present, being a part of the community.”

conversations

Michael J. Chitwood is Superintendent of the Upper Darby Police Department. His 53 year career in law enforcement began in 1964 in Philadelphia, where he worked as a highway patrolman, hostage negotiator, and homicide detective for 19 years. In 1983, he became Police Chief of Middletown Township in Bucks County, where he spent four and a half years before being named Chief of Police in Portland, Maine, where he worked for 14 years before coming to Upper Darby in 2005. As Superintendent, Chief Chitwood oversees more than 130 officers in the incredibly diverse community of Upper Darby, which is home to residents who speak more than 50 languages. Chief Chitwood's leadership centers on building relationships between the police force and the community. The Police Department runs a number of community initiatives, including a 5th grade mentoring program, Citizens Police Academy, and Coffee with a Cop.  Image: Upper Darby Police Department

Michael J. Chitwood is Superintendent of the Upper Darby Police Department. His 53 year career in law enforcement began in 1964 in Philadelphia, where he worked as a highway patrolman, hostage negotiator, and homicide detective for 19 years. In 1983, he became Police Chief of Middletown Township in Bucks County, where he spent four and a half years before being named Chief of Police in Portland, Maine, where he worked for 14 years before coming to Upper Darby in 2005.

As Superintendent, Chief Chitwood oversees more than 130 officers in the incredibly diverse community of Upper Darby, which is home to residents who speak more than 50 languages. Chief Chitwood's leadership centers on building relationships between the police force and the community. The Police Department runs a number of community initiatives, including a 5th grade mentoring program, Citizens Police Academy, and Coffee with a Cop. 

Image: Upper Darby Police Department

Dubois Stewart (left) is a senior at Science Leadership Academy. An avid squash player, Dubois is a member of the SquashSmarts family where he mentors other young people and teaches them how to play squash. This fall, he will attend the University of Pennsylvania to study environmental science. His mother, Vashti Dubois (right), is the Founder and Executive Director of The Colored Girls Museum in Historic Germantown. Founded in 2015, The Colored Girls Museum "honors the stories, experiences, and history of Colored Girls" and is the first institution of its kind, offering visitors a multi-disciplinary experience of memoir in all its variety in a residential space. Vashti is also a literacy coach at the Free Library of Philadelphia and has held leadership positions at a number of organizations over her more than 30 year career in non-profit and arts administration, including: Tree House Books, the Historic Church of the Advocate, Children's Art Carnival in New York City, Haymarket Peoples Fund in Boston, Congreso Girls Center, and The Leeway Foundation. Image: Denise Allen

Dubois Stewart (left) is a senior at Science Leadership Academy. An avid squash player, Dubois is a member of the SquashSmarts family where he mentors other young people and teaches them how to play squash. This fall, he will attend the University of Pennsylvania to study environmental science.

His mother, Vashti Dubois (right), is the Founder and Executive Director of The Colored Girls Museum in Historic Germantown. Founded in 2015, The Colored Girls Museum "honors the stories, experiences, and history of Colored Girls" and is the first institution of its kind, offering visitors a multi-disciplinary experience of memoir in all its variety in a residential space. Vashti is also a literacy coach at the Free Library of Philadelphia and has held leadership positions at a number of organizations over her more than 30 year career in non-profit and arts administration, including: Tree House Books, the Historic Church of the Advocate, Children's Art Carnival in New York City, Haymarket Peoples Fund in Boston, Congreso Girls Center, and The Leeway Foundation.

Image: Denise Allen

connections

According to their website, "The mission of the Upper Darby Township Police Department is to partner with community members to increase the quality of life for all citizens in the Township. Through law enforcement, we will increase public safety thereby reducing the fear and incidence of crime. We will commit to providing high quality services with honor and integrity."

According to their website, "The mission of the Upper Darby Township Police Department is to partner with community members to increase the quality of life for all citizens in the Township.

Through law enforcement, we will increase public safety thereby reducing the fear and incidence of crime.

We will commit to providing high quality services with honor and integrity."

Mural of officers and youth painted by young residents of Upper Darby (photo by Mitchell Bloom)

Mural of officers and youth painted by young residents of Upper Darby (photo by Mitchell Bloom)

The Colored Girls Museum "is a memoir museum, which honors the stories, experiences, and history of Colored Girls. This museum initiates the 'ordinary' object—submitted by the colored girl herself, as representative of an aspect of her story and personal history, which she finds meaningful; her object embodies her experience and expression of being a Colored Girl. The Colored Girls Museum is headquartered in the historic neighborhood of Germantown in Philadelphia, an area renowned for its compliment of historic buildings and homes. Audience members are treated to a Salon Styled-Guided tour of a home which has been converted to a Museum. This multidisciplinary event is a collaborative experience between patrons and The Colored Girls Museum."

The Colored Girls Museum "is a memoir museum, which honors the stories, experiences, and history of Colored Girls. This museum initiates the 'ordinary' object—submitted by the colored girl herself, as representative of an aspect of her story and personal history, which she finds meaningful; her object embodies her experience and expression of being a Colored Girl.

The Colored Girls Museum is headquartered in the historic neighborhood of Germantown in Philadelphia, an area renowned for its compliment of historic buildings and homes.

Audience members are treated to a Salon Styled-Guided tour of a home which has been converted to a Museum. This multidisciplinary event is a collaborative experience between patrons and The Colored Girls Museum."

further reading & Resources

For more information about police violence in the United States, check out Mapping Police Violence, a research collaborative collecting comprehensive data on police killings nationwide to quantify the impact of police violence in communities.

For our Philly crowd: Find out where the Democratic candidates for District Attorney stand on police shootings and policies like stop and frisk via Philly.com.

For some lighter fare and perhaps a smile, check out this article from the Washington Post about a video of a police encounter that ended in a dance off, which includes a compilation of some of the finer dancing cop moments. From the article: "When reached by phone, the officer in the video said she did not want to be identified because she didn’t  want to make the story about her. 'It’s kind of embarrassing that this became so big,” she said. “This is what we do everyday.'"

Click here to learn more about Philadelphia Young Playwrights.