Black Lives Matter (BLM) is missing the point once again. This time, they are opposing a New Jersey Assembly bill that would require teachers to train students on the proper ways to interact with police officers — you know, so they don’t get shot. Should be a no-brainer right? Well BLM doesn’t think so.
On June 15, New Jersey passed Assembly Bill A1114 with a 76 – 0 vote. The New Jersey Senate still needs to pass the bill before it can become law. If this happens, the legislation will require school districts to “provide instruction on interacting with law enforcement in a manner marked by mutual cooperation and respect, and on the the rights of individuals when interacting with a law enforcement official.” This mandate would begin to take effect in the 2018 – 2019 school year.
The law would help young students learn how they should behave when approached by a peace officer. They will learn the proper protocols involved in ensuring a safe encounter with law enforcement. It would also help students understand their constitutionally protected rights when it comes to dealing with officers. Simply put, teachers will be giving New Jersey students the same talk that many minority parents give their children when discussing the police.
These types of lessons are nothing new to the black community. As a matter of fact, most black Americans can recount the many instances when their parents sat them down and told them how to behave if a police officer approaches them. There are several pieces of advice we hear regularly:
“Keep your hands where the officer can see them.”
“Don’t make any sudden moves.”
“Always address the officer with respect.”
“Do exactly what the policeman tells you.”
Seems pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? And yet, Black Lives Matter has taken issue with the proposed law.
Alexis Miller, the leader of a local Black Lives Matter chapter, has denounced the bill stating that it would “create a scapegoat for police brutality.” She also claims that it “It does nothing to address the laws already in place that protect the immense power of police departments. Students … children are expected to master the idea of respectability politics in order to protect themselves from officers.”
Miller is right. The proposed law does not address the accountability of police officers — but she is still missing the overall picture. The bill is only one component in the effort to minimize fatal confrontations between citizens and police officers — it is not meant to address the entire issue. It also does not mean that the assembly not pass legislation that addresses the conduct of law enforcement.
What is interesting about the New Jersey Assembly’s bill is that it does not only require teachers to show students how they should interact with an officer — they will also teach them their constitutional rights. This factor is largely absent from “the talk” most black Americans receive. As a child, I knew how I should behave when dealing with a police officer, but I never understood my rights as an American citizen. This ignorance of the law is not uncommon among young people.
Alexis Miller and many other members of Black Lives Matter assert that their goal is to prevent the deaths of black Americans at the hands of the police. However, they focus only on law enforcement. This is not the only area that we should address. There is a reason why black parents give their children “the police talk.” They know that it can save the lives of their sons and daughters. If this organization truly desires to save black lives, they must focus on the behavior of black Americans as well.
Miller wishes to block Assembly Bill A1114 because it does not completely address the issue of police brutality, but her argument is flawed because she is allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Teaching students how to conduct themselves during an encounter with law enforcement is one of many steps that New Jersey — and the rest of the nation — should take.
Yes, ensuring that law enforcement officers are held accountable for their actions is critical. Along with this bill, New Jersey should also pass legislation that holds the authorities to a higher standard. But this does not mean that the current law is not valuable. If the bill passes, it could be a positive step in the right direction.
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