Ages 10-12 (Tween)Ages 13-17 (Teen)Discipline

Talking To Your Kids About The Police

More than once – and most recently during the fall-out from Adrian Peterson beating his four-year old bloody – I’ve heard some parents claim that they have to beat their kids, because (as they put it) either they beat their kids or the police do.

The thesis here, as I understand it, is if parents don’t teach children (with beatings) to be terrified of authority, then one day when the police confront them on the highway or the street, children will get mouthy and get a beating, or worse, get shot.

That the reality doesn’t match this claim – by which I mean our young citizens, especially if they are black men, don’t have to sass the police to get shot, as recent events have been more than enough to demonstrate – is hardly the point.

The point is that we can teach our children how to act when they are confronted by the police without beating them, or terrorizing them.

The point is that teaching our children how to act when confronted by the police is a skill we should be teaching them, especially these days, when (apparently) in many areas of this country the police are not going to be kept in check by those running our counties and cities.

Standard disclaimer: Not all police.  I have spent most of my life in the South, specifically in New Orleans and Arkansas.  I’m a white woman, and I have been, for most of my life, mostly lower-middle class (sometimes sliding down into poor).  My encounters with the police have been mixed.  For a while, when I was driving a ratty beater of a car (during the four or five years when we were really broke), I would get pulled over a couple of times a year, often on bogus reasons.  My favorite was the time the officer told me he had stopped me because my tag sticker was stuck on crooked.

Arkansas_license_plate_1989_series (1)

“On crooked?” I said.

“Yes, m’am,” he said.  “You’re supposed to get them on square.”

I studied him.  “Really.”  I kept looking at him.  “What should I do about that.”

He advised me to go downtown, get a new sticker, razor the old one off, and put the new one on straight.

“Huh,” I said, not saying what I was thinking, which was, Are you fucking high?

“Mind if I look in your trunk?”

I smiled sweetly.  “Oh, go ahead, officer.”  I popped it for him.

Which I know you don’t have to.  But if you say no, then they call for a K-9 and you’re there on the side of the road for fucking hours.

Which is what they count on, I know.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  I’ve had maybe fifteen encounters with the police during my years living in the South, and fourteen have been either negative, annoying or neutral; one was pleasant.  That was when we were broken down by the side of the road and a very nice office, a young black woman, not only gave me a ride home, she went back and picked up Dr. Skull after the tow truck towed our car and brought him home too.

So: not all police!

But!  Back to your kids.

If you’re like me, and you get stopped often by the police, you can use these encounters as Teaching Moments.

That is, rather than beating the crap out of your kids in the vain hope that this abuse will teach them to react reflexively to all authority with fear and terror, and that this will somehow cause them to cower in just the right manner around police (rather than making them – say – run from police, or over-react toward police, or act nervous and jittery and thus present as very suspiciously toward police), I’d advise teaching them the safest ways to act when they encounter the police.

We have been doing this with our kid since she was young.  Each time she was in the car with me when the police pulled me over, I reviewed the situation with her afterwards, explaining why I had done what I did, telling her why the officer had done what he had done.

The Rules for Being Stopped While Driving:

  1. If you’re stopped while driving, pull over at once. Turn off the engine, roll down the window, get your ID, registration, and proof of insurance out and ready.
  2. Keep your hands in sight. Don’t move quickly when the cop is near.  Don’t open the door unless you’re told to.  Don’t get out of the car unless you’re told to.
  3. Answer the questions the police officer asks, but only those. Volunteer nothing.  Be polite.  Don’t argue, don’t explain.
  4. Give him your ID, registration, and insurance when he asks.
  5. If he wants to search the car, you don’t have to let him. But if you don’t, it’s going to be a huge hassle.  So think about letting him if you don’t have anything in the car.
  6. Do what you’re told, even if he’s wrong.
  7. If he hits you or assaults you, do not fight back. Don’t resist, no matter what.  Even if he’s violating your rights, do not resist.
  8. If he arrests you, don’t say another word except these: “I’m invoking my right to be silent,” and, “I want a lawyer,” and, “I want a phone call.” Call us.

The Rules for Being Stopped on the Street:

  1. Give your ID if asked. If you don’t have your ID with you, give your name and address.
  2. Answer questions the officer asks, but only those. Don’t volunteer.
  3. You don’t have to let him search you, but if you’re not carrying anything, you might think about letting him.
  4. No fast moves. Stand still, and keep your hands in sight
  5. Don’t resist. Even if you think he’s violating your rights, don’t resist.
  6. Don’t argue. Don’t be a lawyer.
  7. Do what you’re told, even if you think he’s wrong.
  8. If he assaults or hurts you, don’t fight back.
  9. If he arrests you, don’t say a single word except “I’m invoking my right to be silent,” and, “I want a lawyer,” and “I want a phone call.” Call us.

These rules are especially important, you should tell your kid, if they ever are breaking the law — if they’re carrying drugs or weapons, if they’re driving drunk, if they’re with someone who is.  Of course you’re going to tell them not to do these things; but go on to tell them if the situation ever arise when they are doing them or they’re with someone who is, these rules are really important then.  Don’t resist.  Don’t say a word if you’re arrested.  And so on.

Also, you as a parent should probably think about supporting the ACLU, which is working to push back on police abuse of our civil rights.

That will do a lot more to end the abuse and slaughter of our citizens at the hands of our police than beating our children bloody ever will.



Raised in New Orleans, Kelly Jennings is a member and co-founder of the Boston Mountain Writers Group. She has published short fiction in Strange Horizons and The Future Fire, as well as in the recent feminist SF anthology The Other Half of The Sky. Her first novel, Broken Slate, was published by Crossed Genres. She blogs at delagar.

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  1. Very good points. I’m not sure about getting your registration out before the police gets to your window and asks for it. My husband has mentioned more than once that growing up he always did this (he lived in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class area), but now that we live downtown in a major city he wouldn’t. He would keep both hands on the wheel, in sight, until the officer asked for license and registration.

    1. Hah, yes, I think this is one of those where you are screwed either way.

      I always get it out the minute I’m stopped, when the police is still in his car, under the theory that it’s too soon for them to shoot me at that point. I like to have everything out and in plain sight in my hands when they approach the window.

      But I suppose they could see me reaching for the glove compartment from their squad car.

      You saw the guy at the gas station who turned to reach for his wallet and got shot, right? That’s what I would be afraid of if I went for the glove compartment AFTER the police came to the window.

      I guess you could wait for them to ask for it and then say, very clearly, “My registration is in the glove compartment. I am going to open the glove compartment. Is that all right, officer?”

      Jesus, though, this is nuts — trying to figure out how not to get shot by the police at a traffic stop? That’s what we’ve come to? Give money to the ACLU, y’all.

  2. Delagar: I have heard the same thing as Elizabeth. You’re right, once he asks you for license and registration, you tell him where they are, and tell them that you’re going to get them. You don’t necessarily have to ask them if that’s ok, but telegraphing your moves puts them at ease.
    This is a good article about what to do during a traffic stop. I don’t recall if the article mentions, but if you have a weapon in the car, tell the officer when they come to the window.
    It does slightly contradict one point: don’t answer the “do you know why I pulled you over” question honestly. Say “I’m sorry officer, I don’t know.”

    Unfortunately, police have placed themselves in an antagonistic role with the public, so we have to protect ourselves.

  3. I probably don’t have to tell you, but your police system is fucked up in so many ways it’s hard to tell where to start.
    In my life I had nicer and less nice encounters with the police, from being a victim of theft and robbery over the usual traffic stops to being arrested for protesting when politicians wanted a clean picture of the city.
    But never ever was I afraid that they would shoot me. Nor was anybody I know.
    That doesn’t mean this doesn’t happen, police are getting more trigger happy by the year when there’s no indication that their personal level of risk increases and there have been deaths in police custody. But it’s still rare and while I don’t necessarily trust the police (the “friendlier” encounters left me with a feeling of fundamental incompetence), I’m not afraid for my life either. It’s abhorring that you need to discuss the best strategies for not getting shot when having a routine encounter with the police.

    1. You don’t know the half of it. I live in Seattle, and our police department was found guilty of violating constitutional rights with a pattern of force that was unreasonable. The US Department of Justice came in and handed us an order to improve.
      So what did the police union do? They sued claiming THEIR constitutional rights were being violated by the new guidelines on the use of force. That’s right, they said “well we may have been abusing force before, but if we can’t abuse force, we can’t do our jobs!”
      Fortunately they just got laughed out of court yesterday, but that’s the sort of shit we’re dealing with here.
      If I wasn’t white, I’d be super worried of getting shot.

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