Should kids be taught how to be polite to police?

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,” 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.

  • Barton
  • Angry Jonny

    We’ve taught our kids that it is perfectly acceptable to be polite while standing up for your rights.

  • MrE85

    I don’t often find myself agreeing with Lucky Rosenbloom, but he was spot on last week on “Almanac.”

    • crystals

      This was a great segment, as was the one before it with Steve Belton. I really appreciated that they started the show with two segments of black men speaking about the verdict. I can’t find the Belton clip on it’s own, but it’s the first segment of the episode if anyone wants to check it out. He does NOT hold back.

      As to this proposed legislation, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with it if there was a companion bill spelling out all the ways in which law enforcement are being trained to be compassionate and polite towards people of color. (In other words, what Renee Graham says.)

  • AL287

    Children everywhere need to be taught the values of respect and polite interaction. Unfortunately, they are not seeing it from adults these days.

    Children do learn what they live. If a parent uses foul language and racial epithets in their everyday communication, you can guarantee the children will be using it, too.

    It is a potent commentary on our society that the State of New Jersey feels the need to make it part of the public school curriculum.

    Teach a child manners and discipline will follow.

  • jon

    I’m all for it, Provided The curriculum includes what directives from police an individual is obligated (legally) to comply with and which they aren’t.

    I’ll point to a recent event in FL:

    When the police don’t know how they are supposed to act, it is important for the community to step up and inform them, and if we educate the children of what police can and cannot do and what they can and can not ask, it will help keep the police honest.

    • Guest

      AGREED both rights and responsibilities. However, I would add in every single case, obey first then file a complaint later. Arguing with a cop (especially one in the wrong) does not end well for the civilian.

      • Chris Hatch

        so when the police illegally tell you to stop filming them you should comply and perhaps leave undocumented something that needs documenting?

        • Guest

          EXACTLY so. Then have a conversation with the police commander and let HIM tell his people what is OK and what is not. Or shut up, walk away and film from the next block.

  • Gary F

    Seeing that the schools are doing lots of things the parents should be doing already, sure.

    The cops need to go by the same training also.

  • >>“an individual’s responsibilities to comply with a directive from a law enforcement official.”<<

    What can POSSIBLY go wrong?

  • Rex Schultrich

    Maybe the training should be to teach the police how to interact with the citizens they are supposed to protect. The militarization of our police has increased exponentially in the past 50 years. Of course, when your primary tool is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

    • Kassie

      Exactly. Use the money to teach the police, not the kids. I should be able walk up to a police officer and call them every nasty name in the book and still be treated with respect and my rights in tact. I was an underpaid welfare worker and could take being called names and disrespected without retaliating, a decently paid police officer should be able to do the same.

  • Robert

    I like this bill and as some of the others have suggested have a similar program for law enforcement. Respect by both kids and police can keep things from escalating to tragedies. Probably much easier in small communities like mine than larger cities.

  • lindblomeagles

    I agree with Renee Graham, Boston Columnist. The off-duty BLACK police officer in Saint Louis who came to help his white brothers in law enforcement capture a suspect, ALSO followed commands peacefully and respectfully. A white police officer SHOT him anyway. Fortunately, the off-duty BLACK police officer will live through his shooting. But, the first thing the white officer who shot him claimed was “I feared for my life.” Instead of teaching children how to interact with police, shouldn’t we be teaching ALL students how to interact with communities of color?

  • DavidP

    Perhaps requiring classroom instruction on “How to be polite” period would be of more value. Seems to me that a lot of disagreements that escalate into conflict would be avoided if we all were simply more courteous to each other.
    As for the proposal being discussed – I would require the police to take training as well. They are in a position of power, which is too often turned into a position of intimidation, and that of a totalitarian abuser. Police should also be required to take and retake training on constitutional law. Again, too often someone may be well within their constitutional rights but a cop simply doesn’t like it and decides that they need to intervene.

    • X.A. Smith

      Great point. I’ve seen many videos of police totally making stuff up, such as “You can’t film me,” etc.

      • Ralphy

        In 2004 I was pulled over for having an Impeach Nero on the back of my car. The Bloomington cop insisted that was not protected by the 1st Amendment. He then wanted to search my car. I declined the invitation, since he did not have a warrant or due cause.
        His supervisor had a teaching moment.
        I had 4 hours by the side of the road.

        • X.A. Smith

          How does a guy like that graduate from high school, let alone police academy?

  • David

    I am not so sure this should be yet another societal problem that the schools should be expected to solve.

    • AmiSchwab

      standardized police training should be solving this