Recently, a colleague of mine shared an article on the D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. D.A.R.E was developed in 1983 in Los Angeles as a means to foster positive relationships between area elementary school students and local law enforcement—specifically, the police. Once a week, local law enforcement agents would spend an hour with students teaching the students about drug and substance abuse prevention and teaching them how to resist peer pressure.
As I read the article, I began to think, what is being done today to foster positive relationships between students, particularly students of color, and law enforcement? What steps are being taken to restore faith in our justice system?
When I was a little girl, we were taught that the man in a blue is a friend to you. If you should become lost, feel frightened, or needed help in any form or fashion, you were to go to the nearest police officer and he/she would provide assistance. When the police were around, you had no reason to fear. The police were public servants that maintained law, order, and peace. The man in blue is a friend to you.
Of course, there was a time in history when people of color understood that some police officers donned white robes just like other members of hate groups. There was a time when the police were not trusted to protect and serve. During the 70’s and 80’s, there seemed to be a renewed trust in this level of bureaucracy that we understood to be the police. Long faded were the images of police officers turning hoses and attack dogs on innocent people who marched for their civil rights. The tide was turning and attitudes shifted. My generation, unlike the generations before me, was told, and we believed, that the man in blue was a friend to you.
Fast forward to today. Many of my generation are now parents and grandparents. As our children and grandchildren watch, Tweet, Instagram, and Facebook the news, they see image after image of a police force that is reminiscent of the police force that was in play generations before us.
A few weeks ago, a young African-American male that was involved in an accident, climbed from the wreckage of his car and walked towards police officers seeking assistance. As he approached the officers, he was shot upon 12 times with ten bullets hitting their mark—the young man. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
In another incident, a young African-American mother’s minivan was shot at several times by officers as she left the scene during a traffic stop. There were several children in the minivan that was on the receiving end of this gunfire.
While there are countless incidents that could be illustrated here, the one that continues to haunt African Americans, almost daily is the story of Trayvon Martin. Sadly, Trayvon Martin’s legacy is forever marred by the fact that his killer, George Zimmerman, has repeated run-ins with the law. A jury of Zimmerman’s peers acquitted him of the crime, the shooting, which took Trayvon Martin’s life. Before Zimmerman would stand trial, the police in his area, the men in blue, did not even arrest Zimmerman until many weeks later.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not feel that all police are bad. However, there was a time in history when it seemed as if there was some thought and there was a care as to how children viewed the police. After many years of running from police to escape the brutality that a youth might experience at the hands of those in society who were charged with protecting and serving, in 1983, someone thought that there should be a program to attempt to foster positive relationships between children and local law enforcement. It seems as if that sentiment is now lost. I ask you, is the man in blue still a friend to you?