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Clayton County youth quiz police over June gun incident

The Clayton County Police Department and the Clayton County Youth Commission talk about policing in the south metro Atlanta community.
The Clayton County Police Department and the Clayton County Youth Commission talk about policing in the south metro Atlanta community.

Credit: Leon Stafford

Credit: Leon Stafford

A month after a Clayton County police officer raised his gun on a group of teens, young people in the south metro Atlanta community got a chance Thursday to question law enforcement.

One of the first questions: “Why are some cops killing us teens for no reason?”

"No cop's intention is to ever kill a teen or any person," Clayton Police Chief Bruce Parks said, adding that taking a life is something officers hope to avoid during their careers. "If we have to use deadly force, it would be to protect someone else's life or our life in itself.

“If something does happen there will be consequences to it,” he said.

The query was one of several the Clayton youth, ages 13 to 18, put to the department in written form. The questions were read by members of the Clayton County Youth Commission. The hour-long discussion, dubbed “Chop It Up with a Cop,” was the second meeting Clayton police have had with the public to discuss how it operates.

In June, an officer, responding to a call from a gas station clerk that teens were playing with a gun, pulled out his revolver while talking to the group of boys. (The boys said they had a BB gun, which they later threw into nearby bushes).

The incident was caught on video by passersby, which led to days of protests. It also put a national spotlight on Clayton County at a time when the nation was roiling over the Memorial Day death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

Clayton Police Chief Kevin Roberts was asked about the department’s ethics, including whether they were followed in the incident with the teens.

"One of our key values is transparency and integrity," he said. "I know there is a debate about whether those core values were involved in the incident. I still submit there was total transparency through the body camera and the vehicle camera footage associated with that interaction."

Others wanted to know where the department stood on changing social issues, such as the acceptance in some cities of marijuana use. Roberts said he has given his officers discretion on when to make an arrest for marijuana possession, which is usually in the commission of another offense.

But, he said, “Marijuana has not been legalized in the state and it is still a crime.”