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Est. April 5, 2002
July 27, 2017 - Issue 709

New Jersey Police
Others to Design
Classes to Teach
K-12 Students to Avoid
Death by Police

"Of the six community organizations invited to
contribute to the curriculum, one-third represent
police officers, and they have been resolute in
defending existing police behavior irrespective of
the police and citizen cell phone videos documenting
highly questionable police practices."

In recent months New York City, Texas, New Jersey, and other states have conceived and/or are developing classes to teach students how to interact with police as a way to reduce the hundreds of questionable police shootings across the nation. Courses have been established for all public school students and for those enrolling in driver’s education lessons. As noted in an earlier column, New Jersey is the latest to join this effort. What is most unique in this instance is that legislation to implement this initiative has been spearheaded by seven African American and Hispanic Assemblywomen: Sheila Oliver, Mila Jasey, Cleo Tucker, Marlene Caride, Angela McKnight, Shavonda Sumter, and Eliana Pintor-Marin (See Figure 1).

They believe that it will replicate “the talk” that many parents of color have traditionally had with their children about how to stay alive when they encounter police officers, many of whom have negative, stereotypical view of minority citizens. Unfortunately, the Assemblywomen fail to understand that “the talk” is “… a plea from a systematically battered people to their children, begging them to acquiesce to the relinquishing of their rights just so they can make it home alive” since policing overall is rife with officers who have bigoted and racist views toward people of color.

With the unanimous support of their white male and female counterparts in the New Jersey Assembly, the bill, A114, passed on a 76-0 vote. It now sits in the Education Committee in the New Jersey Senate as the surrounding politics have caused a delay. As word has spread about the potential passage of this legislation, growing numbers in the state’s minority communities are opposing this measure. They recognize that many of the destructive police-community interactions they have witnessed in their communities and/or have personally experienced in their daily lives will not be improved by having the police participate in the creation of a class in which they will have significant input. Of the six community organizations invited to contribute to the curriculum, one-third represent police officers, and they have been resolute in defending existing police behavior irrespective of the police and citizen cell phone videos documenting highly questionable police practices (see Figure 1).

The National ACLU is monitoring this proposed instruction across the nation, and it is uncertain that all these organizations will sign on as the issue becomes more controversial. Moreover, it is ironic that the Texas sponsor of this victim blaming legislation, (House Bill 1864), State Rep. Sefronia Thompson, is also an African American female, and her Senate co-sponsor Royce West, with Senate Bill 30, is a black male. These well-meaning, but misguided legislators, perhaps, pursued this strategy out of well-meaning desperation to stop the killings of males and females of color in their communities. But they are na�ve if they believe this is a solution to this crisis. Even Sen. West acknowledged after passage of the legislation that … he wasn't sure if these bills would've saved (Jordan) Edwards's life (a 15 year-old unarmed teen killed by police in a Dallas suburb),” stating, "I don't know how [my bill] would have impacted that situation." Therefore it appears that our policymakers are just throwing stuff up against the wall in their political and personal desires to address an escalating public disaster.

Currently, New Jersey’s A114 statute is on hold as both houses of the legislature prepare for the November 2017 elections when all Assembly and Senate members, along with the governor, will be on the ballot. In addition, the Democrats are trying to take back the governorship that Chris Christie wrested from them in 2009. Thus they do not want any unforced political errors. In addition, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Phil Murphy, has selected the primary sponsor of the police interaction bill A114 to run on his ticket as Lieutenant Governor, with the expectation that she will ensure his victory (he already has a 24 point lead over his Republican adversary Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno). In New Jersey statewide elections, Democrats cannot win unless they carry an overwhelming share of the black vote with a strong turnout.

A Democratic incumbent, Gov. Jim Florio, was unsuccessful in his re-election bid in 1993 when he alienated a noteworthy number of the African American clergy. Florio’s Republican rival, Christie Whitman, made major last minute inroads into that group with the assistance of one of its key leaders. Consequently, although Murphy is presently far ahead, one might reflect on the musings of that great New Jersey philosopher, Yogi Berra, … “it ain’t over til it is over.”

As shown in Figure 2 below, it is highly unlikely that the 2014 slaughter of the following individuals would have been prevented by having students or the broader community take classes on interacting with police: the killing of Laquan McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot him 16 times on a Chicago street for allegedly approaching him with a knife which dash cam footage proved to be a lie; Officer Jeronimo Yanez’s shooting into Philando Castile’s car 7 times as he was complying with all of Yanez’s directives; Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown 6 times for walking in a Ferguson street, an incident that launched a national movement against police violence; and Officer Muhammad Noor’s shooting of Justine Damond, a bride-to-be, multiple times as she was seeking police assistance for what she believed to be a rape, because he heard a noise that no nearby witnesses confirmed. The slaying of Damond, a white woman, generated a national, cross-racial outpouring of anger and grief over this apparently senseless homicide. It caused the Mayor of Minneapolis to immediately call for the resignation of the police chief in response.

With the petitions and protests against A1114 on the rise, it is highly unlikely that it will pass the New Jersey Senate before the 2017 elections, although Gov. Christie would be excited to sign it as it would give a boost to his post-gubernatorial career. Passage of A1114, at this time, could undo the Democratic coalition that is needed for individual and collective electoral successes. Phil Murphy has a decision to make, whether he will run on a ticket that could alienate a critical part of his African American base by supporting a bill they increasingly find offensive, giving his Republican competitor an opening to pull votes from and/or lower turnout in his base.

Time is near for a decision. The Farrell Report will be on hiatus during the month of August, conducting polls and focus groups on the aforementioned matter in New Jersey’s African American communities. Results will be released in the September column.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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