Across the country, people who look like my family are being killed by police. The latest incident that I woke up to this morning happened in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. A black man, Philando Castile, was killed in his car in front of his girlfriend and a 4-year-old child as a result of a traffic stop. He stopped his car and informed the police officer that he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. He went to get his identification as the officer requested and wanted the officer to know he had a gun. Mere moments later, he was dead. He was killed in front of his girlfriend and a 4-year-old girl.
This is why my children get training at home to prepare them for interactions with the police.
This morning before I got out of bed, my husband and I talked about this incident and so many others. We talked about the conversation we had last night with our children — 9-year-old twin girls, a 13-year-old son and a 20-year-old daughter — about police in the United States. We told them about how to behave if stopped by the police. We also had to tell them that even if they did all the “right” things, they may still be killed by the police. These are not fun conversations to have with our children. These are not optional conversations. These are conversations we have to have as parents of black children in the United States.
I live in a wonderful neighborhood. The police in our area have never been anything but kind and respectful to our family. When my twins and I were hurt by a hit-and-run driver with a history of drunk driving, police officers came to the scene and helped us. They came to the hospital to help us, to check on us and to show compassion. Later, when we saw one of those officers in the neighborhood, he was truly happy to see the miraculous recovery my daughter had made. I am fortunate. I am blessed.
That doesn’t change the fact that in African-American homes all across the country, children are being given police training. Children are being drilled on these and many similar lessons:
- what to do when you see a police officer
- what to do when stopped by a police officer walking on the street
- what to do when stopped by the police when you are driving
- what tone of voice to use when talking to the police
- what posture to use when talking to the police
- how to memorize offers’ names and badge numbers without getting caught
- how to act as if you belong where you are
- how not to look threatening
- how not to look brave and strong
I wish we did not have to talk with our kids about police killing black people across the United States. I wish we did not have to talk with our kids about the dangers of interaction with police. I wish we did not have to give our children lessons on police interactions, like the civil rights workers were given before going off to protests and sit-ins, just so they can go to the playground. But wishes are not reality, and we have to have these conversations about the police.
We do this because when my husband and children interact with police, a negative outcome — even a deadly outcome — is possible. It is a real fear, one based on history and on current events. It is a fear that is rational and fact-based upon life in these United States.
Here’s what I think: As long as I have to train my children to interact with police, then police should be trained to interact with people like my family.
In order to maintain their licenses, doctors, lawyers and other professionals are required to undergo continuing education on a regular basis. Police officers need to be required to undergo continuing education as well. The training they receive before being let loose to protect and serve is good, but it is not enough. They need to be trained regularly on a variety of matters including de-escalation of heated situations, conflict resolution, cultural proficiency, psychology and sociology. This training should be mandatory, not optional.
We all hear police respond that they shoot people when they feel ill at ease because “training kicks in.” Ongoing training in things other than the use of weapons is needed so that when police interact with African-American citizens, some of that training can kick in. Police need to be trained to do more than just shoot the African-Americans with whom they come in contact. Police are supposed to protect and serve, not judge and execute.
When I look at my family, I see gorgeous, happy people. I wonder what some police officers see.