Black Parents Take Their Kids to School on How to Deal with Police

Janell Ross, Washington Post, January 4, 2017

The workshop title is simple, straightforward: “Race & the Law.”

The problems it seeks to address are anything but.

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It is a Saturday afternoon in early December, and Room 104 at the Anne Arundel Community College is packed, all 150 seats taken. There are moms with oversized Louis Vuitton bags from which they produce items such as granola bars and string cheese. But there are more fathers than mothers and a few elementary-school-aged kids. Most of all, there are teens with Beats headphones draped around their necks like electronic jewelry.

Organized by the Arundel Bay Area Chapter of Jack and Jill of America Inc., “Race & the Law” was one of more than 225 similar events held around the country last year and more than 50 such events scheduled across the nation in the first three months of 2017; they are places where anxious black parents bring their children in hopes of preparing them for potentially fateful encounters with the police. They are, in essence, mini boot camps for children about how to be black in 21st-century America.

Jack and Jill is a family organization with more than 40,000 members. It aims to entertain and educate the kids of mostly middle-class and wealthy black families. It is an organization where kids are exposed to big experiences, such as lobbying on Capitol Hill and serving holiday food to the homeless, that do not look bad on college applications either.

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From Baltimore to Ferguson, Charlotte to Atlanta, Houston to Oakland, there are now organized workshops about race and policing hosted by black churches, fraternities and sororities, and civic organizations. They carry names such as “The Law and Your Community” and “Surviving the Stop.”

Stephanie Irby Coard, an associate professor in human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, says the existence of these events are an indication of the “anxiety and disappointment and anger so many black parents feel. Race continues to matter in dangerous ways. The difficult part is how to have these conversations in a way that is honest enough to maintain credibility.”

The workshops are an opportunity for parents to try to address two basic responsibilities of raising black children that often seem in conflict with each other: First, they would like to teach their children how to stand up for what is right, to speak out against what is wrong and to stand up for themselves. But they would also like to keep them safe and alive. For people of color, there is a long-standing worry that in encounters with police, one approach precludes the other.

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Keith Pemberton, a social worker from High Point, N.C., is a member of Omega Psi Phi—a historically black fraternity with more than 700 chapters worldwide—and the father of three boys, ages 11, 8 and 6.

“My wife and I really want to build into them a sense of possibility, of purpose. So, it is beyond disheartening for me to also have to say, ‘Boys, no matter how you dress, speak or interact with someone, there is still that possibility that you are going to be treated like a savage.’ But that is where we are. That’s what a responsible father just has to do.”

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A group of women distributed free copies of a $9.99 book, called “A Survival Guide: How Not to Get Killed by the Police, Part I,” written by M. Quentin Williams, a former FBI agent, lawyer and onetime executive with the National Football League and National Basketball Association.

Pemberton, the father of three, took four copies.

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