“Mommy, how can you tell the difference between a good cop & bad cop?”, is what my son asked when he was 9 years old. I wish I could say that I had an answer for him, but unfortunately I didn’t. Three years later, he still has questions. Trying to explain police brutality to a kid definitely isn’t an easy subject to tackle. He watches the news and hears about incidents where police have killed people, and most recently he took notice of the Philly cop accused of punching a woman in the face. When he asked me the question, I wondered if a white mother ever had their white son ask them the same question, and how did she happen to answer it.
How do you explain to little black, brown and yellow boys that not all police officers are bad. I tried to explain to my son that there are officers out there who genuinely take on that career choice because they want to serve their community, but that there are also some out there who abuse the privileges that are given to them, and because you’re never able to tell which one you’re dealing with, that it’s always best to respect the fact that they are ‘authority’ figures.
I refuse to implant in my son’s mind that all police officers are ‘pigs’ and target people of color. I would never want my son in a situation where he comes across an officer and feels that it’s OK for him to disrespect the officer and cop an attitude. Just a few days ago, we witnessed that happening at our local grocery store. A group of teenagers (both white & black) were hanging out in front of the grocery store on their bikes and skateboards, and clearly there were signs which stated ‘no loitering’ allowed. An officer, who was black, approached them and asked them to go elsewhere. Did they move immediately? Of course not. My son asked me why weren’t they leaving. The officer, for the 2nd time, asked them to move their group to the park, a few started to grab their stuff to leave but one kid didn’t bother to budge. An older lady who was putting groceries in her car, walked up to the kid and basically told him to listen to the officer and leave. He listened to the older lady, but apparently he didn’t feel the need to listen to the officer. Thankfully the situation didn’t escalate. But where was the respect for an authority figure? Was the kid taught that?
I’m extremely cautious when it comes to raising my son, but I also realize I can’t shield him from everything. Hopefully in equipping him with information on how to handle different situations, and the fact that respect should be given to authority figures of all types, he’ll understand that some people truly are there to “protect and serve” and not brutalize.
Have you discussed police brutality with your child or younger family member? How did you approach the subject?