The other day, my 5-year-old daughter and I were walking down the street. There was a police cruiser on the other side of the street, and I told my daughter that we needed to go across the street to ask the police officers a question. My daughter immediately said, “No, Mommy!” I asked her why, and she said in her little 5-year-old voice, “I’m scared of the police.” I asked her why, and she said, “Because they kill people.”
I remember as a child, the police officer on the block was your friend. The police were there to help you. Everyone wanted to be a cop at Halloween. All the little boys and girls were enamored by the badges and the uniform. Being a cop was cool, and they were the “Good guys.”
But my, have times changed! In this day and age, young people barely see police officers out of their cars. The daily interaction is minimum, and worse than that, often times with children of color, those interactions are negative.
Slowly the city is realizing this. With the influx of officers who will be hitting the streets soon, and the creation of the community partner program, I am hoping that the police in our neighborhoods will have more time and inclination to interact in a positive way with our children.
The idea that my daughter would be so afraid of the police that she would not go to them in a time of need angered me. I know that there is a problem with police and community relations, I know that as a Black newspaper we talk about all the injustices that the police have done to our community. But at the same time, we mourn, like everyone else mourns, the loss of life of an officer. We realize that the number of “Good Cops” outweighs the number of “Bad Cops.”
As I tried to explain to my little girl that just as in life, there are good people and bad people, there are good cops and bad cops, but overwhelmingly they are good and that they are here to serve and to protect us.
I told her that when she is in trouble she should find a police officer and the police officer will take care of her. They are supposed to help us.
Saturday morning, my daughter and I walked out of our house and took a trip to the local police precinct. It was around 7:30, and the shift change was occurring. We stood outside of the precinct and talked to all the officers who came in and out that day. One of them even let her see inside a cruiser, but from the front seat. As we walked home, I asked her what she thought of the police, and she said, “The ones that we met were very nice, but I am still a little scared.”
This fear needs to change. I don’t think my daughter is the only child to have these feelings. We need the officers to come back to schools for career days. To come into the classrooms of our elementary schools and talk about what they do, not as a threat, but as a friend.
In the 1960s to the 1980s “Officer Friendly” was a police-community relations program in which police came into preschools and kindergartens. Classrooms across the country were provided with kits that included coloring books, videos, board games and teaching guides with activities connected to the officers’ visits. We need “Officer Friendly” back, plus a lot more outreach. The police and the community need to be partners, but that can’t happen when everyone is afraid of each other.
Let’s expand these programs and make the police more visible in a positive way to our children, but at the same time, let us not forget, that some police should be off of the streets. The police commissioner and the mayor need to be the catalysts for change. It needs to come from the top down, and those officers who are responsible for the needless deaths in our community must be taken off the streets and dealt with appropriately. These people have no business being police officers, and they give all the officers a bad name and a worse reputation.
Police policies have to change so that being Black is not a crime. Perhaps hand in hand with “Officer Friendly,” we can get our communities back on track to a better tomorrow.
Meanwhile, happy Thanksgiving.