Bill to educate students on police interactions proves contentious

By Andrew Schmertz


The bill sailed through the Assembly but may now be stalling in the arena of public opinion.

Opponents say it blames New Jersey’s children by making them responsible for police behavior.

“We are in a high tense moment around police brutality and accountability and this is an opportunity to actually resolve that. And instead it places the blame and the onus on children, on high school and middle school students where we thought this wasn’t a genuine effort to actually resolve police brutality,” said rally organizer Akim Olla.

The group of protestors, organized by the Paterson chapter of Black Lives Matter, gathered at the Trenton Transit Center and marched to the capitol. They rallied against the proposed law, saying it’s insulting and is crafted in a way to put the blame on the victims of police abuse.

“A lot of the disconnect comes from the fact that it’s not really focused about, or really even being considerate about, the history of what’s going on with the constituents and what’s been going on pretty much the discord, disconnect, a lot of the tension, a lot of the fear that we’re feeling when it comes to police officers. Especially when it comes to what it means to be a black child in the state of New Jersey,” said TJ Holloway.

The bill would require teachers from kindergarten through high school to teach students the best way to interact with the police. The specific curriculum still has to be created.

When lawmakers voted on the bill they may not have thought it too controversial. The state Assembly passed it 76-0.

In fact, the bill was changed from an original version, to stress the individual rights of people who are approached by the police.

Assemblywoman Shelia Oliver introduced the legislation, but on Friday refused to comment.

New Jersey’s ACLU supports the concept of the bill, as long as it doesn’t place a burden on the students.

“Importantly this bill actually establishes an advisory committee to actually create the curriculum. And the ACLU, and some of our other partners that we work with on police accountability and transparency measures are part of this advisory committee. So our hope is that the curriculum will focus on students’ rights,” said Dianna Houenou.

And some parents in Newark thought the basic idea makes sense.

“I think that would be a great thing. Children do need to know how to interact with officers. They need to know that when approached by a police officer they are assumed to be under arrest at that point so they need to know how to be cooperative,” said Newark resident Rosa Johnson.

“I actually it’s a great idea for the both the community and police,” said Marcela Rosado from Irvington.

The bill is now in the Senate Education Committee. If it becomes law, it could be become part of curriculum throughout the state in 2018.