How police impact our kids’ lives

April 3, 2012

IN RESPONSE to "What every Black man in America must learn": I will never forget my first teaching job on in the poor, all-Black neighborhood of East Garfield Park.

I am a preschool teacher--my students were 4 years old. Three of my 19 students had a parent in prison, and most of the others had uncles, cousins and grandparents in prison.

I had noticed on the playground that the children played "po po" (police) almost every day. This game involved children standing against a wall, spread eagle, while other children frisked them and then grabbed their arms and held their wrists behind their back as they were arrested. The arrested were led to "jail" inside the walls of the jungle gym.

I watched this game unfold over the course of a couple days and then decided to have a discussion with the class about what this game was all about.

It was astonishing to hear these 4-year-old children relate their understanding of the police in their community. No myth of "Officer Friendly" here. Just horrible, traumatizing stories of watching their family members and neighbors being arrested and harassed. One little boy said, "Don't back talk 'em. That's when you be slammed!"

How do you help a 4-year-old feel secure when their reality involves humiliating violence perpetrated against their families by the very institution that is supposed to protect them from the bad guys?

Thanks for your coverage of this issue.
Kirstin Roberts, Chicago

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