LAPD Officer Michael Jason Scott held a microphone standing in front of the students at Vaughn Street Elementary School in Pacoima. He asked the young students an unexpected question.
“How many of you are afraid of the police?” As the small hands shot up, Officer Scott asked them, why?
“They shoot Black people and are racist,” a Latino student replied.
Other students said, “They have tasers and chase you,” “They take you to Juvvie,” “They have guns” and “They chase you and tackle you.”
Officer Scott thanked the students for being “brave by speaking up.” While Scott wore a Dodgers jersey and baseball cap, he noted the female officer who stood next to him had both of the things the students feared — a taser and gun. He hoped to reassure them that it was to protect them.
He understands that people of color, even from a very early age — may have already had a negative experience with the police and may not trust them.
As a young man, Scott was arrested and jailed overnight for a warrant that wasn’t his. It left an impression on him and impacted his desire to police differently by getting out of the patrol car and directly engaging with the community.
Over the years, Scott has been at the helm of toy giveaways and has brought top musical entertainment to local parks. He’s become a very familiar face in some of the poorest communities throughout the San Fernando Valley.
He started a “Just Say No,” program that he takes to elementary and middle schools. It’s patterned after the old D.A.R.E. Drug Abuse Resistance program, but now goes beyond a single issue and is bolstered with an outdoor rally that is very different from a classroom lecture. The students sign a pledge beforehand and recite it at the rally.
“This isn’t just about drugs, it’s about gangs, crime and bullying and these are the things that kids are dealing with in school and are affected with every day,” he said.
At Vaughn, he enthusiastically engaged the crowd of students with games and physical activity that caused them to smile, jump up and down and cheer loudly. As kids kept hula-hoops moving around their waists, he encouraged them, “keep going — you can do it!” he shouted.
The “You can do it” message he delivers translates to letting the kids know that they’re strong, and they have a voice they can use if they need to — “Just say No.”
That message can’t be delivered enough as drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamines are causing overdoses among young people and the Department of Justice proclaiming fentanyl as an epidemic.
“Fentanyl is affecting the kids because they don’t know what it is,” said Scott. “Kids are willing to try anything out there so we need to teach these kids to say ‘No.’ Anything that is not given to them by their parents or from their school’s cafeteria, they should not try at all.”
There is currently a notice from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on Vaughn’s school website inviting parents to sign up for training sessions to keep children safe from fentanyl. The upcoming training sessions will cover tips for communicating with children, teens and peers about opioids, risk factors, effectively recognizing an opioid overdose and how naloxone can reduce the effects of the overdose, and resources for support.
For more information about the sessions, go to: Home – Vaughn Next Century Learning Center (myvaughncharter.com).