Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia have passed legislation that mandates schools teach students how to conduct themselves around police. Texas passed its law in the last legislative session and mandated that high schools and especially driver’s education courses train students how to conduct themselves around law enforcement. Texas also passed a law to train police on how to de-escalate situations. Indeed, education on both sides is needed to help improve the overall fear that many citizens have for the police.
These measures on how to teach children to interact with police have come under criticism by groups such as Black Lives Matter which say a curriculum like this could place the blame for violent encounters plus the burden of preventing them on civilians. Some police advocacy groups are also worried that it encourages and worsen the fears the young and the old already have about cops.
New Jersey lawmakers are now working on a bill that would require every school district to teach about police responsibilities and civilians’ rights. The first part of the curriculum would be taught in elementary school while middle and high school students would have further training. The curriculum has not yet been created. Bill sponsors want input from police advocacy groups and community organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
New Jersey Black Lives Matter Chapter organizer Alexis Miller says the bill’s concept is fundamentally flawed. “This bill is clearly designed to create a scapegoat for police brutality, and that scapegoat is New Jersey’s children.” She added, “Students are expected to master the idea of responsibility politics in order to protect themselves from officers.”
Let’s face it—encounters with the police at any age can incite fear and anxiety in a person.
Senior Policy Counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union Michael Sistzky said, “I do think it’s a bit ridiculous that we have this frame where it’s the responsibility of civilians to control themselves and protect themselves in these encounters, especially when you think about the power disparities between someone stopped in the street and an officer with a badge and a gun.” He added, “But in the absence of real accountability for police, knowing your rights is better than nothing.”
Most encounters with police are through traffic stops. Educating future motorists about their rights and responsibilities towards driving and police may help the fear factor some but in the end it is all about the moment.
Thirty-two year old cafeteria worker Philando Castile had been pulled over 49 times in 13 years (or about once every three months) for minor infractions. He was stopped for a cracked taillight and told Officer Yanez that he was carrying a gun in the car with a legal permit. As he reached for his registration in his glove compartment, he was shot several times while his girlfriend and her child were in the car.
Would learning how to handle a traffic stop helped Philando Castile? Getting stopped that many times in so many years was already an education in itself. What might have helped more is supporting Officer Yanez with additional and ongoing training support to better de-escalate the situation before Castile became another statistic.
States, like Texas, are starting to understand that an educational component needs to be there for law enforcement officers who need additional training support to make sure tragedies like Castile’s don’t happen.
From a motorist’s standpoint, a periodic reading of one of the NMA’s most popular e-newsletters, The Yin and Yang of Surviving a Traffic Stop (#268), would be time well invested.