It’s up to us to end the hate
We are looking for ways to take action after the targeted deaths of police officers in our country. As educators and mothers, we have tended to approach these issues around race, guns and policing as history. But racism and hate aren’t just our past, they are our present.
Sociologists have documented how children revise their perceptions of law enforcement as they grow older. As young children, police officers are perceived as helpful and kind, working to keep us safe. But as children grow into adolescence, these perceptions split by race: Black and Latino students stop seeing police as benevolent helpers; white students continue to see police as the good guys. They learn the opinions of the adults in their lives, and among adults these racial divisions run deep.
These divisions are rooted in facts. Black and Latino men are overrepresented in traffic stops, arrests, convictions and in our prison system. Black men and women, and Latinos, are killed at the hands of police officers in numbers disproportionate to their share of the population and out of proportion to the reasons for which they are detained. This racism is widespread and well documented.
Yet, we see police officers acquitted for these deaths, even in the face of video evidence and eyewitness testimony. While the vast majority of those outraged by these deaths have turned their energy to peaceful protest, some, including Gavin Long and Micah Johnson, twist their anger into a need to commit acts of violence. We are in a cycle of hate and revenge.
In our political science classes, we talk about the civil rights movement. We talk about the setting on fire of the buses used in the Freedom Rides, of the unleashing of police dogs and fire hoses on peaceful demonstrators, of the vicious killings of Emmett Till√ and Medgar Evers√. Of the four young women, Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley√, killed in their Birmingham, Ala., church. Of the assassinations of civil rights leaders including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, and so many more.
We want our students and our sons to live in a country where racism and hate are just that — history — but it’s going to take work on the part of all of us to get there.
That’s why we participated this week in a public forum at Menlo College in Atherton to pursue strategies for dealing with these issues in our own community. While Menlo College has a very diverse student body, Atherton is not particularly diverse. The national divide by race bleeds into our campus climate.
We must work with our students, colleagues and community to find common ground in our pursuit of knowledge and understanding. The first step is acknowledging that these issues exist, and not to sweep them under the rug as just a part of our American history.
Our nation’s children are watching us. In the award-winning Broadway musical “Hamilton,” the lead character repeatedly declares, “I’m not throwing away my shot.” Let’s not throw away our shot to use these events of the past few weeks to step away from hate and truly embrace the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that all men are created equal.
Terri Givens is the provost and Melissa R. Michelson is a professor of political science at Menlo College.
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[via San Francisco Chronicle]