“When I was 14, my mother told me not to panic if a police officer stopped me. And she cautioned me to carry ID and never run away from the police or I could be shot. In the nine years since my mother gave me this advice, I have had numerous occasions to consider her wisdom.” — Nicholas K. Peart in the New York Times, 12/18/11.
Graduating from college next May, Peart describes several incidents when he was stopped, frisked, handcuffed, and frightened by New York City policemen.
I thought of the song from Roger & Hammerstein’s 1949 musical South Pacific: “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwK8HyAbFZA)
I thought about how 62 years ago this show was written and is continually revived on Broadway and elsewhere.
I thought about how 47 years ago President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
I thought about how President Barack Obama had to prove his birthplace to hateful cynics trying to derail his candidacy.
I remembered being with a good friend in New York City, an African American professional woman, watching her efforts to hail a cab ignored. I remembered taking a diverse group of 8th graders to a local theater and seeing how they were treated by students from other schools.
And I thought whatever’s being taught, isn’t enough.
Peart wrote: “Essentially, I incorporated into my daily life the sense that I might find myself up against a wall or on the ground with an officer’s gun at my head. For a black man in his 20s like me, it’s just a fact of life in New York.”
Peart went from respecting police to fearing them. “The police should consider the consequences of a generation of young people who want nothing to do with them — distrust, alienation and more.”
The prevalence of handguns makes police quicker to draw their weapons. The epidemic of gang violence and drug-related crimes make them more suspicious, less tolerant and less patient. No excuse, still, for random frisking and humiliation.
“I hope police practices will change and that when I have children I won’t need to pass along my mother’s advice.”
Or at least not that advice.