NYC Police: “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught”

“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.” (

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.

This entry was posted in Education, New York City, parenting, teaching, teenagers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to NYC Police: “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught”

  1. Barbara W. Klwin says:

    Right on! the Motley’s were stopped by police. Two Elderly people in a Cadillac. The policeman didn’t know whom he was dealing with. But we are all not Federal Judges!


  2. Sadly, this is still so true. My son and husband are always so cautious. My son just graduated from NJIT in Newark. My husband always waited outside for him after his night classes. We just wanted him to be safe coming home at night.


  3. nancy Polster says:

    Thank you for this profound blog. Did you know that the song “You’ve got be taught to hate” was told to be cut from the musical. Rogers and Hammerstein refused and said that if they took out that song, the show and the point that they were trying to make would be ruined. I am glad that they were not driven by reviews but by their principles.


  4. Leah says:

    Wow, this is such a powerful post! It brought tears to my eyes because I’m not sure much has changed from so long ago. Or if it has changed, it’s just a different discrimination or different victim. Thank you for sharing this and linking to the NYT story. We have a lot to learn and remember.


  5. Nathan says:

    What’s amazing about all this is that at least half of the police officers I encounter working throughout NYC’s 5 boroughs are not white.


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