A Grandmother’s Reflections About Police Encounters

 In Be The People TV, Featured, Judiciary, News, Political Parties, Race Relations, U.S.

Vibrant glowI am 62-years-old and I guess I have received two or three traffic tickets in my life. The first one after I moved to Nashville, TN from Princeton, NJ in 2000. I have been driving since my early twenties and have been stopped 8-10 times by police officers for traffic violations or a tail light that was actually broken. I have always been courteous during these unwanted encounters and I have found that police officers have been given me more mercy and grace than I expected or deserved.

I have also had the experience of raising two sons into adulthood. My teenage sons were harassed and racially profiled when we lived in Princeton, NJ., during the 1990s. It led to a period of activism in my life and some short-term positive change in police community relations. After a study of racial profiling initiated by my actions, university and town police had to under go mandatory sensitivity training. I participated by giving lectures to local and university police.

As a mother, I advised my sons to treat police officers with respect. It was a given that you would obey their direct orders even if you thought they were wrong. We are from the South, so I taught them to say “yes sir” and “no sir” to police officers who stopped them. Frequent and unwanted stops subsided as my sons grew older. Both are in their 40s and they have rarely mentioned police encounters other than to lament the news about the shootings. I worry about my grandson in NJ, because I know the messages young black people receive today are more likely to lead to belligerent behavior and hostile interactions with law enforcement. I also know that homicide at the hands of another young black male is the leading cause of death for black men between the ages of 15-34. This is a more frightening reality than the likelihood of being shot by a rogue police officer.

I have studied these problems closely. One of my 5 college and university degrees is in criminal justice. I also have data filed away for future use, copies of police reports and descriptions of my children’s interactions with Princeton University and town police I hope to use someday in a memoir. In the meantime, I continue to believe that practical solutions include teaching our children respect for authority and the rule of law. Unfortunately, we are teaching a generation of people to hate and distrust the police. Surely, there is a better way to address these problems.

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