As a young child I was taught that police officers were to be respected and trusted—and in my neighborhood they earned that trust and respect. My early experiences taught me that police officers could be counted on to help during a crisis, keep the peace and make sure everyone followed the rules. I also learned that the police carried authority which meant I was to demonstrate respect and always follow their directions. And with that respect there was a sense of “fearing police.”
My fear of police officers was never about being mistreated or hurt—my fear was about what my parents would do to me if I ever got “in trouble.” What I know now is that while I was being taught to respect and honor police, other children were being taught to fear the police. Unlike my neighborhood, in other neighborhoods police officers were not trusted or respected. And the fear of police included knowledge that officers could and did cause physical—and deadly—harm.
Over the past year the conduct of police has been under fire. We have been bombarded with news coverage of citizens being killed by police, police being slain by citizens and yet others attempting “death by police.” The incidences have led to increased debates as we try to “make sense” of the unnecessary deaths of both citizens and police. And as we try to discern the impact of these incidences on our beliefs and views, are we paying attention to how these recent incidences are impacting our children?
As parents we are responsible for helping our children learn how to live in the world. Police are a part of this world and our perceptions and beliefs do influence how our children view the “men and women in blue.” As much as my beliefs and perceptions of police officers have changed since my childhood, I must admit my early experiences and what my parents taught me about the police has had a lasting impact. And I am assuming your beliefs and perceptions will too.
For me, I am less trusting of “police” as a group than I was as a child. I believe there are good police officers and not so good police officers and that everyone is not treated the same. I no longer assume police are “in the right” and believe there are times police act quickly and with force that is not warranted. Yet I also believe that police provide a much needed service and value the risk they take everyday on the job. I believe police officers hold a position of authority and we should listen and comply with their requests. As a result of these beliefs, I encourage children to show respect to police officers and appreciate their role in our community. I also try to foster awareness by sharing with children that experiences with police vary greatly which impacts how others perceive or respond to officers.
I am very aware that these are my views and beliefs, and accept that other parents will have different beliefs or views of the police than I do. And I do not oppose those varying views. The recent incidences involving police should provoke a reassessment of our beliefs—especially among parents. Regardless of differing experiences and values, I am confident all parents want children to be safe and not caught in the cross-fire. What is important is that we recognize the impact of recent events on our children. And that we clarify our own views and intentionally teach our children how to interact with the “men and women in blue.”