Teaching About Police Brutality

Introduction

Police brutality is all too common in today’s society and students are being confronted with horrific images and stories through news and social media that can be difficult to understand and process. Also, police brutality in the US cannot be talked about with confronting the racism and racial profiling that underpins it. Using moments when police violence has occurred to teach students about the history and present of police brutality in this country can be a great learning opportunity for students and teachers alike. Likewise, in the face of injustice and violations of basic human rights, it is important to discuss ways that students have agency to impact change in their own communities.

Resources

There are a wealth of resources available for teachers to use to talk about police brutality, its history, and ways to effect change. The resources below come from incredible organizations working to educate the public and confront these issues on a local and national scale.

Lesson Plans

  1. Black Lives Matter at School: Here you will find a link to the 2020 BLM curriculum resource guide which is a google drive filled with resources for different age groups and subject areas from History to Art to Math. Some activities that deal with processing and taking action against police brutality include: #Getfreewrites Writing Prompts on Police Brutality and Racist Violence and How Writers Can Join the Fight Against Police Violence.
  2. #FergusonSyllabus: Talking and Teaching About Police Violence: This lesson plan, from Prison Culture, aims to teach young people about police violence. The lesson begins by introducing a few general questions meant to get students thinking about who benefits and suffers from policing before jumping into an extensive list of activities grouped into the categories: Introductory ActivitiesHistorical Timelines of Policing, and Art. Each one of these activities are interactive and unique, encouraging students to collaborate with each other while learning about policing and violence.
  3. YOUTH and POLICE: Police and the Use of Force: The Constitutional Rights Foundation put together a lesson, which consists of an overview, teacher tips, objectives, materials and preparation, and procedure, about police and the use of force. In this plan, students will learn about the truth of police work, complete a worksheet about when police officers may have to use force in the field, and work in pairs to analyze a case and decide what level of force should be used. By working through this lesson, students will be able to understand a bit more about the difficult choices police officers have to make regarding force in certain situations.
  4. Police shootings, race and respect: PBS NEWSHOUR EXTRA supplies a lesson plan for grades 7-12 about police shootings, race, and respect. This lesson calls for students to read a provided summary about police shootings against African Americans, watch the video or read the transcript of Tetrina Blalock on police brutality and demanding respect, read the article “New study gives broader look into how police killings affect black Americans’ mental health”, and answering a handful of discussion questions.

Articles

  1. npr – stories about police brutality: npr provides a multitude of articles about police brutality on this webpage. Articles about police using excessive violence, innocent victims being targeted by police due to their race, and riots taking place in response to brutality from law enforcement are all included. Reading these current events will be extremely eye-opening to many students, especially those who are more privileged, and hopefully inspire them to learn more about police brutality and make change.
  2. Black Lives Matter: 25+ Resources for Your Conversations on Police Violence: This article, from everyday feminism, provides two categories—Unpacking Police Brutality and White Allyship in Response to Police Brutality—of resources to use in the classroom for teaching their students about police violence, its connection to racism, and what we can do to help. The conversation on police violence and racism can be a tough one to have in the classroom, but it is an important one, and these linked articles will help you get started!
  3. The racist roots of American policing: From Slave Patrols to traffic stops: This article from The Conversation details how the modern police force traces its roots to slave patrols in confederate states, policing during the Jim Crow era, and the effects that are still apparent today.
  4. How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change: An essay written by President Obama about how both protest and politics are necessary to bring about reform in the justice system. It also talks about the importance of state and local governments as the ones most directly responsible for criminal justice reform.

Informational Sites

  1. Police brutality in the United States: Encyclopedia Britannica offers information for students about police brutality in the United States, specifically African Americans and police brutality, police brutality after World War II, police brutality and race riots, and anti brutality campaigns. This informational article will help students understand how great of an issue police violence is and the history behind this type of brutality.
  2. MAPPING POLICE VIOLENCE: This informational site gives readers access to a police violence map, accounts of unarmed victims in 2014 and 2015, a 2015 police violence report, a comparison of police killings in various cities and states, national trends, and more. Learning about the statistics of police killings, the factors that contribute to a person’s likelihood to be killed by a law enforcement officer, and proven solutions to decreasing this type of violence will help students be able to empathize with victims of police brutality and understand the gravity of this issue.
  3. These Are Cases in Which Police Officers Were Charged in Shootings: Fortune has compiled a list of police officers charged after harming or killing a civilian. Though the majority of officers haven’t been prosecuted for their crimes until recently, a few examples of cases may be helpful for students to read during the learning process. Reading about real people and their real crimes is more impactful than hypothetical cases or statistics.

Conclusion

Teaching students about police brutality isn’t an easy job, but it is an important one. It’s crucial to be aware of your audience when discussing the topic because every child and their family has had a different experience with the law and police violence that you may not be aware of. It may be a good idea to disclose the information you will be discussing to students and their families before you begin the lesson to give them the opportunity to voice any concerns.

Additional Resources

  1. TEACHING ABOUT RACE, RACISM AND POLICE VIOLENCETeaching Tolerance provides various articles and resources for teaching about race, racism and police violence. The events leading up to Michael Brown’s shooting and the account of the Los Angeles Race Riots by a protester are just a couple of the topics discussed on this site to start the conversation of police violence in the classroom. These resources, most of which are based on some form of current or past events, are perfect for introducing the concept!
  2. Resources for Discussing Police Violence, Race, and Racism With Students: This article provides resources for discussing police violence, race, and racism with students. Resources from TEDx, the Today Show, Teaching Tolerance, Teaching Now, Harvard Graduate School, and Character.org are all recommended and linked for use!
  3. September 27, 1966: MLK- A Riot is the Language of the Unheard: From 60 Minutes. Three years after his I Have a Dream speech, MLK had a conversation with Mike Wallace about divisions in the civil rights movement.
  4. New Era of Public Safety: An Advocacy Toolkit for Fair, Safe, and Effective Community Policing: From the Policing Campaign at the Leadership Conference Education Fund, this toolkit is a great resource for teaching students about the different ways to take action and support criminal justice reform. From influencing public opinion, to voting, to putting pressure on elected officials, it’s important to talk about ways that students can take action in response to issues that they care about. Learning about injustices and human rights violations can be overwhelming for students if they aren’t also taught that they have agency to make change, so don’t shy away from talking about advocacy and civic engagement.
  5. Anguish and Anger: A list of resources compiled by the Obama Foundation separated into “Get Informed”, “Take Action”, “Get Engaged” and “Stand Together”. Some resources on this page overlap with those listed above, but there are many others as well.
  6. Ta-Nehisi Coates on Police Brutality: “The Violence is Not New, It’s the Cameras That are New”
  7. Self-Care: It is important to keep in mind that learning about police brutality and living through moments of unrest can be mentally and emotionally taxing for students and teachers. Check out our page on teaching about self-care to find resources for helping students develop tools for taking care of themselves. Other great resources include The LoveLand Foundation and Black Emotional And Mental Health (BEAM) Collective 

    Police brutality protest turns violent when officers of the Philadelphia Police Dept clash with protestors, in Center City Philadelphia, PA, on October 21, 2017. Multiple arrests were made when protestors approached the Frank Rizzo statue, outside Philadelphia City Hall. The protest initially started outside the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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