A Black Lives Matter branch in Paterson, N.J., is urging residents to sign its petition calling for a ‘No’ vote on a new bill that would mandate schools to teach students how to interact with law enforcement.
Backed by Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, Assembly Bill A1114 passed the Assembly by a 76-0 vote on Thursday, June 22, according to the New Jersey State Legislature’s Office of Legislative Services. The bill must still be passed by the Senate before it becomes law.
If passed, the legislation would essentially require school districts to instruct students from kindergarten through 12th grade on how to talk to authorities “in a manner marked by mutual cooperation and respect.” The instruction would be taught as part of the state’s social studies curriculum.
NBC News reported that a revised version of the bill now mandates that schoolchildren also learn about “an individual’s rights under the law in interacting with a law enforcement official.” The Department of Education must work with an advisory committee to develop the curriculum as well.
Local residents aren’t a fan of the legislation, however.
“This bill is designed to create a scapegoat for police brutality and that scapegoat is New Jersey children,” said Alexis Miller, lead organizer of the Paterson Chapter of Black Lives Matter. “Instead of addressing the laws that protect the immense power of police departments, students are expected to master respectability politics in order to protect themselves from officers.”
So far, the group’s online petition has garnered well over 300 signatures.
“Everyone needs to understand that creating cordial bonds between officers and the community does not negate an officer’s authority to use force,” Miller added. “It is simply an illusion. Our students should be in the classroom learning measurable subjects and our tax dollars should go towards STEM, the arts and inclusive history.”
Similar “respectability” programs have been approved in other states like Texas, which requires that only certain students be taught how to interact with police. Unlike in New Jersey, the Texas law also requires that law enforcement officers complete civilian interaction training, according to NBC News.
“This legislation does not empower young people, especially those living in brown and Black communities,” local activist and educator Zellie Imani told the network.
“Instead, it empowers law enforcement by allowing them to continue to evade accountability for abuse and misconduct while forcing the burden on the public.”