Recently, social media has been flooded with videos of law enforcement officers participating in what was dubbed the “Lips Sync Challenge,” in which officers give their best lip syncing, and sometimes dance, performances to popular songs.
The challenge is the latest of many social media campaigns that have surfaced over the past few years aiming to humanize police and remind the communities they serve that officers are people too.
Last month, the Cedar Rapids Police Department jumped on the bandwagon and released their own video. But instead of doing something silly, they decided to send a message — a plea to end gun violence.
“Other departments across the nation were doing this lip sync challenge and they were fun and lighthearted and I was approached to do one that was fun and lighthearted,” said Sgt. Laura Faircloth. “But I didn’t think our department or this community really wanted to see a fun or lighthearted video. I thought this community would want a professional video that sent a message and I thought the officers would appreciate that as well.”
Featuring a hip-hop song called “Guns Down,” by Flau’jae, the video acknowledges six young people in the community who have been killed by gun violence in the past six years. The lip syncing was done by two sisters — A’Alyiah Watkins, 20, and Salena Watkins, 19, who grew up with, are related to or lived in the same neighborhood as many of the victims.
And a handful of officers were featured in the video, including School Resource Officer Drew Tran and Patrol Officer Justin Kaczinski.
Flau’jae is a 14-year-old rapper from Savannah, Georgia, who made it to the quarterfinals of this season’s “America’s Got Talent” TV show. She wrote the song about her father — a hip-hop artist known as Camouflage — who was shot and killed in 2003. Her song calls for an end to gun violence, asking that people put their guns down and stop killing each other.
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“I was sitting in my living room when I heard the song and thought we need to do something with this song,” Faircloth said. “So, that’s where the idea came from.”
For the Watkins sisters, participating in the video was personal.
Their cousin, Senquez Jackson, was 15 when he was accidentally shot and killed on March 19, 2016, in the 1400 block of Bever Avenue SE. The girls said Jackson and a friend were playing with a gun when it went off, killing their cousin. A 13-year-old was charged with involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s death.
“It was pretty hard for us, for our family as well,” A’Alyiah Watkins said. “Any death, any young death, that hurts a lot.”
So when they were asked to participate, they said they felt it was their responsibility to say yes.
“The first person that popped into my head was Senquez, and I just thought we should do something to honor him and other young victims,” A’Alyiah Watkins said.
“I’m completely camera shy, but I said yes right away because I thought it would be a good idea,” Salena Watkins said. “We live in the community where a lot of these people grew up, we knew a lot of them, and we thought it would a be more meaningful if the community saw faces they knew in the video and not just random people.”
While the sisters lip synced Flau’jae’s song, Faircloth, Tran, Kaczinski and a few other officers made appearances, each holding pictures of six victims of gun violence — the Watkins sisters’ cousin Senquez Jackson, 13-year-old Ireshia Parks, 19-year-old Latasha Roundtree, 15-year-old Aaron Richardson, 18-year-old AnnaElise Edgeton and 22-year-old Quintrell Perkins.
Ireshia Parks was killed on Sept. 27, 2016. She was accidentally shot and killed in a vehicle in the 800 block of 15th Street SE. There were six juveniles in the vehicle, including Parks, when the gun accidentally went off. A 13-year-old boy was later charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Officer Tran held Parks’ picture in the video, and in the years after her death, he said he has gotten to know Parks’ sister through his work as a school resource officer.
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“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “Seeing these kids grow up, I mean they were kids, and it’s hard.”
Latasha Roundtree was Ireshia Parks’ great aunt. She was shot and killed four years earlier on Sept. 22, 2012. Police said Roundtree was shot at a party on 16th Avenue SW when the vehicle she arrived in was mistaken for a drive-by vehicle. The shooter is currently serving life in prison.
For Officer Kaczinski, who held her picture in the video, Roundtree’s death was heartbreaking.
“I met Latasha when she was about 7 or 8 years old,” he said. “She came into what is now the Fas Fuel (on First Avenue) with a few other kids, and they wanted some drinks and candy and they didn’t have any money so I bought it for them. And that became a connection that I kept with her. I’d see her almost on a daily basis working in (Wellington Heights). She was always pleasant and friendly.”
“You carry it with you,” he said of her death. “Especially the ones that you relish being involved with. There’s not a whole lot of kids that you make a significant connection with, so when that gets taken away, it follows you your whole career.”
Sgt. Faircloth said she was on patrol the night Roundtree was killed. She was one of the first to arrive on scene and testified at Roundtree’s homicide trial.
Aaron Richardson was killed on Sept. 6, 2015. He was shot near 16th and Park streets SE. A 14-year-old was charged with murder in the shooting and later pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
AnnaElise Edgeton was killed on Jan. 14 at Shamrock Apartments on Jacolyn Drive SW. Her death was the first homicide of 2018. Edgeton was killed when a man broke into her apartment and shot her. Police said they did not believe it was random. The shooter, and three others have been charged in her death.
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And Quintrell Perkins was killed in 2014 with 20-year-old Sierra Simmons. Police said Perkins and Simmons were baby-sitting at a residence in the 1700 block of Fourth Avenue SE when two men ran in the front door and out the back. Seconds later, the house was shot up, and Perkins and Simmons were killed. The shooter is serving life in prison.
Faircloth said the video is geared for young people because it is the young people who are dying.
“A lot of these young people don’t understand that when a life is gone, it’s gone forever,” she said. “They’re out there playing with guns or solving their problems with these guns, and it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. They don’t understand the impact that it has on the community, on the families, on everyone who was touched by these individuals who are killed.”
Faircloth said she hopes the video will encourage young people to find other, nonviolent ways to solve their disputes.
“I think anybody that’s ever been touched by any type of death knows that everything stops, and you wonder how people can laugh, how they can smile, how they can get through their day, and everybody else goes on,” she said. “And on those anniversaries, you remember and everyone else forgets. And this was our way of saying we’re not forgetting, we’re not forgetting these young people who have lost their lives. We’re going to honor these people, and at the same time we want to stop this from happening to anyone else.”
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