One of the toughest topics right now in Criminal Justice is the conversation of police and race. We all can present the cases, the statistics, the stories, etc. But, are you creating an open atmosphere with content your students can try to relate to? This is the hard part. Our job is to present the evidence—not a side. It is my firm belief that students shouldn’t understand the “side” I’m on with important topics because my opinions don’t matter. I give my students all the evidence and let them make their own decisions.
How do I do this?
First, this is a matter that you have to present two sides to. We have to talk about the tough cases, show the tough videos, talk about the victims, the police, the media, and our perceptions.
Second, we must be aware of our audience. If you teach at a racially diverse university (you’re lucky) this may not be as difficult, you have students on different sides of the issue before you even begin. However, if you teach at a school that is predominantly white I suggest starting somewhere different entirely. Give a history lesson! Talk about:
If you’re at a predominately white school you may also want to discuss “white privilege.” (Check out: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack https://www.deanza.edu/faculty/lewisjulie/White%20Priviledge%20Unpacking%20the%20Invisible%20Knapsac...)
We do all of this to set the stage. We aren’t dealing with what has happened in the past 5, 10, or even 20 years. There are decades of oppression to consider in this conversation and many students have never been presented with the history.
Next, we present the policing evidence. I do this with a series of podcasts. The best I have found for this was put out a couple of years ago. It is a two-part episode of This American Life titled “Cops See Things Differently.”
These podcasts do a GREAT job of presenting BOTH sides of this policing issues. Focusing on good and bad examples of policing. This allows my students to have the “race” conversation, but also have it in context of what we have been discussing in class: broken windows policing, community policing, police-community partnerships, zero tolerance policing, use of force, stop and frisk, implicit bias, etc.
Quickly Add Any of These Resources to Your Course:
I present my own discussion questions and I could give you some, but let’s be honest, you know your students better than I do! Come up with what suits you, your class, and your student body population. You must be adamant about your class being a safe space, and be prepared to have opinionated and boisterous responses.
Finally, if you can seek out a police academy! Students need to understand how fast police officers need to make judgment calls. I do this by taking my students to a use of force simulator. They love “playing the game,” but also realize very quickly how stressful the police job is and how they “see things differently” than the rest of us.
Here are some of my student this semester at the police academy!
These are some things I do. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have and I’d love to hear what you do in class. We really need to keep this discussion going as it is so important and always changing!
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