Four New Jersey Democrats are pushing a bill in that state that would require schools to teach kids how to interact with the police.
It cleared the General Assembly 76-to-0.
The bill would provide K-12 students with instruction on “the role and responsibilities of a law enforcement official in providing for public safety” and “an individual’s responsibilities to comply with a directive from a law enforcement official.”
It requires students to be taught to communicate with police “in a manner marked by mutual cooperation and respect,” NJ.com says.
“This is not about assigning blame or responsibility, but rather an attempt to empower our young people so they know what to do and what not to do,” said Sheila Oliver, one of the bill’s sponsors.
It can’t hurt, right?
Renee Graham, the Boston Globe columnist, isn’t so sure.
“When his car was stopped last summer in suburban Minnesota, Philando Castile was polite,” she writes in her column today. “He never raised his voice. He calmly informed the officer that he was carrying a firearm, reiterated that he would not pull the gun out, and he didn’t. For reasons obvious only to the jury who ultimately acquitted him earlier this month, the officer still shot Castile five times, killing him.”
I don’t doubt that NJ Assembly legislators want to save lives with its bill. Still, I can’t shake its potential side effect — unwittingly shifting from officers to citizens the responsibility for the outcome of these interactions, while law enforcement continues to act with impunity. It’s like telling women how to avoid becoming sexual assault victims, yet saying nothing to men about their own behavior.
Especially in communities of color, only when officers stop killing men and women who pose no serious threat will any semblance of trust between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve come to fruition. That won’t happen unless police officers, not just school students, are better trained on how to avoid escalating encounters into tragedies, and are held accountable when they don’t. Civility has its limits, and African-Americans and Latinos can’t count on it to save them from winding up in a refrigerated drawer with a toe tag.
“This is a lesson many parents already teach to their children,” Oliver countered. “Making it part of the school curriculum is the next logical step.”
The bill is now under consideration in the New Jersey Senate.