Black parents across America are sending their kids to workshops designed to teach them how not to be killed by police officers.
Now, on its face, that sounds like a good thing. Teaching kids to be courteous and respectful when being questioned by police is an excellent lesson and will lead to a drastically different result from cursing at them, running away, or fighting back. But digging a little deeper, these workshops are also giving black youth the impression that they are targeted simply for their skin color.
The Washington Post covered one such event put on by Jack and Jill of America, “a family organization with more than 40,000 members [which] aims to entertain and educate the kids of mostly middle-class and wealthy black families.” The workshop was titled “Race & the Law.”
“They are places where anxious black parents bring their children in hopes of preparing them for potentially fateful encounters with the police,” Post writer Janell Ross states. “They are, in essence, mini boot camps for children about how to be black in 21st-century America.”
In her piece, Ross touts the misleading statistics that black males are disproportionately killed over other race groups by police officers, when in fact, more whites are killed. Yes, blacks are “overrepresented” regarding their low population percentage, but they also make up the most violent crimes when deadly force is more likely. That small inconvenient truth is missing.
But those are the stats provided to the kids in attendance, and it is scaring many of them, causing “anxiety and disappointment and anger.”
Ross explains the two-fold approach to the workshop:
The workshops are an opportunity for parents to try to address two basic responsibilities of raising black children that often seem in conflict with each other: First, they would like to teach their children how to stand up for what is right, to speak out against what is wrong and to stand up for themselves. But they would also like to keep them safe and alive. For people of color, there is a long-standing worry that in encounters with police, one approach precludes the other.
One parent who brought his child to this workshop said, “My wife and I really want to build into them a sense of possibility, of purpose. So, it is beyond disheartening for me to also have to say, ‘Boys, no matter how you dress, speak or interact with someone, there is still that possibility that you are going to be treated like a savage.’ But that is where we are. That’s what a responsible father just has to do.”
The American Civil Liberties Union backs many of these programs and while its members don’t “go into classrooms and say ‘all police are bad,’” New York City chapter director Lauren Frederico said, however, “We do acknowledge reality.”
Community leaders have noticed a substantial increase in requests for these types of workshops since the election of Donald Trump as minorities assume they no longer have an advocate in the White House.
Black ministers have also gotten involved in these types of programs but have also experienced some blowback from the community. When they instruct students to dress appropriately in public and not come across as thugs, some participants shout, “We are not the problem.” A community forum at the Charlotte Convention Center advised:
Total compliance and acquiescence, even if the orders, accusations or suspicions make no sense or violate your rights. Come home alive, file a complaint later and fight by seeing that process through.
Great advice for the constitutionally-minded. However, that’s not what many minority communities agree with.
A former president of an all-black Florida lawyers group, Benjamin Crump, is one of those. He believes in fighting back during the police stop:
“I, for one, refuse to blame all the black and brown people injured and killed for all of these outcomes. We have a racist justice system, or certainly one that is not free of bias. We know that. We do ourselves no favors when we deny that. The question should be why is the penalty for asking questions, for — I don’t know — actually talking back, for raising your hands, for keeping your hands down, you name it, so often, for our children and young people, death?”
Crump has represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice.
At the event she attended, Ross said a child asked if one police officer could arrest another, and an officer responded, “The answer is yes. When all of that fails and police officers break the law, when police officers are bad, and we have proof, we will arrest them. We can do that. We have to do that. We absolutely do.”