White Parents: We Need To Have 'The Talk' With Our Kids And Police Chiefs

Conversation together
Conversation together

Every black parent in America has to have "the talk" with his or her sons and daughters -- about how to act and not act in the presence of white police officers with guns. It's a painful family ritual that is slowly being discovered by America's white parents as more and more police killings of young African Americans occur and are nationally discussed.

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III recently shared a powerful video, first released last year, to his congregants and constituency called "Get Home Safely: 10 Rules of Survival if Stopped by the Police." Everybody should watch this video to see what black parents and pastors are regularly saying to their children about how to survive in America.

Last week was another week from hell -- horrific police killings of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minn., and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., almost immediately followed by a civilian shooting 12 police officers in Dallas, killing five. The proliferation of a culture of violence was gut wrenching for many Americans to watch, with few solutions being posed.

I have two to suggest. They are two new talks to respond to the old talk black parents still need to have with their children.

In my 22 seasons as a Little League baseball coach, I have never coached a black player who hadn't had "the talk" with their Dad or Mom. But none of my white players have ever had that talk with their parents. In fact, very few of the white parents even know such a talk is going on.

So here is the first new talk I want to suggest: White parents and grandparents need to have a talk about racialized policing with their children and grandchildren. Tell them that black people, including black children -- their classmates, teammates, and playmates -- can be stopped by the police, hurt by the police, and even killed by the police just because they are black. Tell them how that doesn't happen to children who are white. Tell them that's the kind of country we are still living in. Tell them that their black friends have had to have talks with their parents about how to behave when they are in the presence of police officers. Tell them the stories of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, so many others -- and now, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Tell them this is a terrible, unacceptable thing. And tell them they can help change it.

I can hear white parents responding that such talks would make their children uncomfortable. It would, and that could be a very important thing. I think the kids I know could handle it. And those kids who already live in diverse environments know some bad things are going on. Helping white kids to better understand what's happening in the world is a very good thing. It could teach them early on that we need to change these things and need their help to do that.

Such talks would be very personal and intimate, but they could change hearts and minds. And that could change the culture of the country.

The second talk I suggest is this: White people need to have a public talk with our sheriffs and police chiefs. It's past time for white parents, pastors, and citizens to have direct talks with their law enforcement officials. They should join the conversations that many black community leaders are already trying to have with the leaders of their police departments. Let's start having those talks together.

The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing has produced an enormously helpful report on how to change and reform policing in America. It is both thorough and pragmatic. The report shows how to move from the "warrior" model of policing to the "guardian" model, how to enter into the effective world of community policing, and how to protect and serve their citizens and be accountable to them.

The task force that produced the report was led by some of the best law enforcement experts around the country, and these leaders need faith communities to help them take their report to their local police departments. So let's do that -- black parents and white parents and pastors and citizens, together. Ask your sheriff to read the report, and tell him or her you will be back in a month to discuss it together and seek how to best implement it.

Joshua Dubois, a young black leader, wrote a short form letter that people can send to their local police chiefs. Read Joshua's letter, and then write your own. This new direct talk with law enforcement could change public policy and police behavior.

For white people -- and parents in particular -- there are two new talks that we need to have: One very personal, with our children and grandchildren about what is happening to black people at the hands of police; the other very public, alongside our black community leaders, about how to change that and hold our law enforcement officials accountable for change.

White people need to do a lot of listening right now to their friends and neighbors and co-workers and fellow citizens and believers of color. And it's also time to start talking where we can have our own influence -- starting with our own children, and our local law enforcement. They need to know that we are watching, and that we -- and our children -- will be expecting changes.

Weeks like this last one need to wake us up.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, is available now.