PORTLAND — Judith Abdalla, a senior at Portland High School, found the lines being read by Portland police officers surprisingly powerful.

Amid the descriptions of what goes through an officer’s mind during a hostile encounter, the officers described their lives outside of work, their families, their own struggles when they were growing up.

Then Abdalla was on the stage, playing the role of a tough teenager refusing to submit to an officer’s demands.

She challenged the student portraying an officer: “If I say shoot me, what are you going to do about it?”

The group of police officers and young people ran through a dress rehearsal Tuesday for back-to-back skits that portray differing views of police and spark dialogue about improving relations in the community.

The skits will be performed today for students at Casco Bay High School and Portland High School. They will be performed Thursday for Deering High School’s students and staff. A public performance will be held at the Portland Public Library at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

One skit, “The Weeping City,” depicts relations with police from the perspective of young immigrants and refugees – a relationship that can be clouded by fear and suspicion. It is a production of Maine Inside Out, a group that collaborates with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.

The other skit, “Radio Calls,” shows how police view their roles, their interactions with young people and some of the history that leads them to behave as they do. The script, written by Art At Work director Marty Pottenger, draws on the experiences of officers and builds on her earlier poetry project with police.

The performances are a response to hostility that arose from conflicts between officers and youths in certain Portland neighborhoods, including a police shooting last year.

“There were a couple violent incidents in the community, a couple deaths, that touched a lot of people that had problems with it, and the cops and the community weren’t communicating,” said Nancy Valmond, a 2007 graduate of Portland High School who jumped at the chance to join the production.

“It just felt as though there was a gap, no one was listening to us,” Abdalla said. “If we can’t come together to discuss what our problems are, how are we going to solve them?”

The production has shed light on how the two groups often talk past each other, without making an effort to understand the other. It also shows some of the weight that officers carry with them on the job.

“In the last 11 years, I’ve seen seven people take their last breath on Earth,” says Officer Steve Black in his role in “Radio Calls.”

“There’s always a gun present – your gun,” says Sgt. Charles Libby. “If we lose a fight, we know the gun could move to the other guy. We can’t afford to lose.”

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]