Youth should be taught rights, police should be taught respect

The state of Illinois requires all high school students to attend driver’s education courses, and in August, the state passed a law requiring the lessons to include information on how to behave when pulled over by police.  A curriculum is in the works, which all driving and public schools must implement in the 2017–2018 academic year.

The lead organizer of Chicago’s Black Lives Matter chapter, Kofi Ademola, told DNAinfo in a Sept. 1 article, he thought the law was “problematic.” He said it could be seen as an attempt to make minority youth more submissive to the police rather than help them contest blatantly illegal actions. This  law has troubling implications in Illinois, considering Chicago is still dealing with the aftermath of the Oct. 20, 2014, fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by police officer Jason Van Dyke. This law could be misused as police accountability continues to be a national issue.

Without context, the curriculum could serve to further protect police officers from accountability and shift the responsibility for proper protocol to the average driver, so it is imperative the lesson goes beyond that. Students should be taught their legal rights when interacting with police and a step-by-step procedure for what happens during a typical police stop. These rights include knowledge of search and seizure laws, the right to record a police officer and the ability to request proof of an officer’s authority, such as a badge or license.

The Illinois driving manual, “Rules of the Road,” has a section called “Being Pulled Over By Law Enforcement,” which may be the material driver’s education courses draw from to fill this requirement. It includes advice on what do when drivers believe an officer has mistreated them, as well as a walk-through of what to do when an officer pulls them over, detailing proper action from the point of being pulled over by the police to being released back onto the road.

Including this information in driver’s education lessons is a good start for discussing police interactions. In addition, local schools and districts should be able to tailor their lessons to their communities. For instance, schools and districts in areas with notoriously disrespectful cops should be able to emphasize signs of being mistreated by police if they feel this extra knowledge would be important.

However, it is just as important that police officers be properly educated to interact with the public. Citizens should not be trained, or even asked, to be respectful to officers; instead, police should learn to handle all kinds of behavior from citizens properly without resorting to unnecessary violence.

Not cooperating with police should rarely end in a death sentence and should be handled with arrests and detainment if need be. In the case of Sandra Bland, a woman who died under police custody after being pulled over and inappropriately treated by police on July 10, 2015, in Hempstead, Texas, officers would have prevented worldwide heartbreak had they considered less-violent alternatives to handling her minor traffic violation and alleged disrespect. Training police officers to react less violently to the citizens they are protecting is more important than teaching high school students what to do in the event of a police stop.

Better understanding between police officers and the communities they are policing is key to ending tensions and diminishing police brutality. This challenge needs to be tackled from both sides of the table: Civilians and the police who are meant to protect them should both be doing their parts.