Council should follow New Jersey's lead in helping students interact with police

NJ Budget
Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver's bill is a direct attempt to save lives.

I don’t often say this, but it’s time for Philadelphia legislators to look across the river and model a recent decision by New Jersey legislators. The New Jersey Assembly unanimously passed a law that would require school districts to teach students how to talk and interact with police officers. Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) was the primary sponsor and likened her vision to schools reinforcing the interaction many African-American parents have with their kids to lessen tensions with police, particularly during car stops.

Philadelphia City Council previously passed a resolution asking the city public schools to use Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a primary text. Their radical rationale was best summarized by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, a chief sponsor of the bill. Blackwell defended Zinn’s praise for Fidel Castro by telling me on my radio show, “Castro didn’t do everything wrong or he wouldn’t have stayed in power this long.” Mayor Kenney, who was a councilman at the time, was also a prime supporter of the idea.

Given this history, and the unanimous vote of support in New Jersey, why wouldn’t City Council push for this? One reason is that Black Lives Matter is the leading opponent. On my radio show, Alexis Miller, lead organizer of the Paterson, N.J., chapter of Black Lives Matter, told me this bill was putting a burden on New Jersey school kids to try to prevent police brutality. She was quoted on Philly.com as saying: “It does nothing to address the laws already in place that protect the immense power of police departments. Students … children are expected to master the idea of respectability politics to protect themselves from officers.”

Black Lives Matter has started a petition urging a “No” vote on the bill, which still must be passed by the state Senate. The bill also requires that children be taught about “an individual’s rights under law in interacting with a law enforcement official.” This is also a big plus for the bill.  Developing a curriculum on these issues would allow another opportunity to counter the narrative of BLM that police are engaging to brutalize African-American and Latino citizens.

Patrick Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said his organization supports the Oliver legislation and calls it “a good policy that can benefit everyone … I think something like this provides everyone with the opportunity to look at, and perhaps understand, the situation from an entirely different perspective.” That is a key point.

This bill in no way negates the need for police to continue their overall training in how to better interact with citizens, particularly in high-pressure situations such as car stops. It’s particularly timely, because media outlets such as the Washington Post have started a milestone watch meme. The Post recently reported that police shot 492 people dead in the first half of 2017, claiming this is on track to reach 1,000 deaths for the third year in a row. They give no context to the shootings, but I think the message is that police are out of control.

I’ve interviewed Oliver over the years, and she certainly is a progressive, but, as she has said to many news outlets, her bill is a direct attempt to save lives. If Philadelphia City Council members want to do the same, why not at least pass a resolution calling upon the schools to develop a curriculum? Why not be a force that publicly recognizes that trust can be nurtured with police and lives potentially saved?

Could it be that, as worthy as those objectives are, Council wouldn’t want to deal with the negative reaction from the local Black Lives Matter and related groups? Would they be afraid of disruptions and protests?

Miller of the Paterson BLM told me we should be teaching kids that they could do everything correctly as taught by this curriculum but still be shot by a cop. I conceded that this was true. However, I’m on the side that says training of police, strict accountability by police and education of kids about rights and responsibilities is the path forward. Let’s do it.


Teacher-turned-talk show host Dom Giordano is heard 9 a.m. to noon weekdays on WPHT (1210-AM). Contact him at www.domgiordano.com

Twitter: @DomShow1210