By Senator Lena C. Taylor
In my nearly 20 years in elected office, I have seen some pretty interesting bills. There are few things you could think up, without realizing that someone has likely already drafted a piece of legislation about it. Ranging from necessary to outright scary, I have learned not to be shocked as these bills appear in my inbox for consideration. However, I must admit that there are still proposals that cause me to raise a brow.
Take for instance a bill, recently circulated by a member of the Wisconsin Legislature that would require the State Superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to collaborate with law enforcement to teach students how to interact with the police. With a stated goal of “providing the public with a stronger understanding of their rights and responsibilities while interacting with law enforcement,” the bill’s authors believe the proposal “would create a solid foundation of mutual cooperation and respect”. The authors, further suggest, the “best place to create this foundation is in our schools.”
The bill calls for a model curriculum to be developed for students, in grades 5 to 12, to instruct pupils on how to interact with law enforcement, again with “mutual cooperation and respect.” A school board or governing body of an independent charter school could “opt out” of providing this instruction, by adopting a resolution.
I guess I wonder if Tyre Nichols, George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Andre Hill, Manuel Ellis, AtaTiana Jefferson, Botham Jean, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Janisha Fonville, Eric Gardner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Dontrae Hamilton, Jay Anderson, Jr. and so many others would still be alive had they taken this “model curriculum”. Likely not.
You see, what my colleague doesn’t understand is that the children who are most likely to be impacted by interactions with law enforcement, have been getting educated for years about how to engage law enforcement. In our community it’s called “The Talk”. Drive the speed limit. Obey all traffic signs. When you get stopped, keep both hands on the wheel.
Don’t reach for anything. Be respectful and follow their commands and don’t argue with them. If they say they are going to arrest you, just cooperate and we will take care of it. Most importantly, just make it home safe.
The sad part is that those conversations don’t end when they are young. Our adult sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and mothers and fathers all still get the talk. Not even our grandparents are exempt from police interactions that go off the rails. Just ask 70-year-old LaDonna Paris.
Putting the burden on children, and hoping to condition them for future police interaction, is not what saves lives. Real legislation, that includes police reform and accountability, helps to create situations that are safe for everyone. Mutual cooperation and respect goes both ways. So, the question is who’s educating law enforcement and for our sake, who’s educating legislators that think this bill is a good idea.