I was left dumbfounded by a letter to the editor last week in which the author opposes teaching police critical race theory, preferring instead that children simply be taught “police are not their enemy unless they are doing something illegal” [“Youths Need Education on Interacting With Police,” July 28, Xpress]. As someone who works with children, I would like to highlight some elements of human nature that prove such a solution to be myopic and ineffective.
All children are raised within a certain sphere of norms and thus imprinted with an acceptance that those norms encompass all reality. Many privileged children are raised learning that speeding is OK as long as you don’t go too fast or get caught. They have probably witnessed their parents check a text while driving or have one too many before getting behind a wheel. Yet still, the fear of police is beyond their scope.
Children of undocumented immigrants, on the other hand, witness a deep fear of the police in the adults in their lives and probably know from a very young age that the only option for them is to run if an officer enters their life for any reason.
Likewise, many underprivileged children live in homes where the presence of police only means bad news. Police take away their family members and friends. Sure, a law must have been broken, or money owed or a court date missed, but again, the events and actions leading to an arrest are all within the realm of “normal” for the children.
Now before we judge the families of these kids, claiming they should know better, might I remind that everyone breaks some law(s) to a degree that is in line with its sphere of norms. So, to just teach kids to trust officers, to not panic and to not break laws blatantly ignores how children learn to define and navigate reality. Sure, we can add that to our school programs, but the kids who will learn to trust cops and not panic are the ones who are already in line to do so.
It seems that the author, probably of no fault of their own, didn’t even begin to fathom that children of different populations may experience reality differently. That they may react differently if facing the pressure of a police encounter. This inability to instantly know the other side of things isn’t limited to folks who write letters to the Xpress but is present everywhere. Knowledge of this naiveté and how it shapes our actions is at the center of critical race theory. And who to better teach than the officers who, upon responding with wisdom and understanding, could improve community safety and still “go home to their own families, too.”
— Kat Taylor