Ken Her­man: Bill would teach kids how to talk to cops,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - Ken Her­man Com­men­tary

In Latin and in law it’s known as “in loco par­en­tis.” It’s of­ten a con­cept of last re­sort, one not pur­sued lightly be­cause it runs counter to our bet­ter in­stincts. The lit­eral trans­la­tion is “in place of a par­ent.”

The best so­ci­eties are built on the no­tion that par­ents — more than gov­ern­ments, more than judges — know what’s best for their chil­dren. It’s not al­ways true. Schools are an “in loco par­en­tis” sit­u­a­tion, one that most of us agree on be­cause most par­ents aren’t qual­i­fied to ed­u­cate their chil­dren.

Se­nate Bill 30, ap­proved this week by a Texas Se­nate com­mit­tee and prob­a­bly headed to the Se­nate floor soon, em­braces “in loco par­en­tis” on a very spe­cific ed­u­ca­tional mat­ter, one that most par­ents should be qual­i­fied to han­dle: the in­ter­ac­tion of young people and cops dur­ing traf­fic stops, a com­mon oc­cur­rence that al­ways starts with some ten­sion and some­times ends with tragedy.

“Chair­man Bird­well and I were just talk­ing about how sad it is that we have to be hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion,” state Sen. José Menén­dez, D-San An­to­nio, said, re­fer­ring to state Sen. Brian Bird­well, R-Gran­bury, dur­ing a Tues­day com­mit­tee hear­ing on the bill.

Mo­ments ear­lier, Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, talked about the bill and “the times we live in.”

There are lots of things in which the phrase “the times we live in” seems ap­pro­pri­ate. Few are sad­der than the topic that SB 30 seeks to ad­dress.

SB 30, which has bi­par­ti­san sup­port, sim­ply seeks to ed­u­cate young people on how to in­ter­act with a cop by adding a sec­tion about that to the driver’s li­cense man­ual and by teach­ing about it in our pub­lic schools.

And, ac­knowl­edg­ing this is a two-sided prob­lem, the bill also calls for re­quir­ing cops to com­plete a “civil­ian in­ter­ac­tion train­ing pro­gram.”

Be­fore the Tues­day hear­ing at which the Se­nate Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Com­mit­tee sent SB 30 to the full Se­nate, an im­pres­sive and di­verse group of sup­port­ers — law­mak­ers, law en­forcers, community ac­tivists — gath­ered for a Capi­tol news con­fer­ence. Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick, a Repub­li­can, was there and called it one of the ses­sion’s most im­por­tant bills.

One of the bill’s spon­sors, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said the bill is “real sim­ple.” The prob­lem it ad­dresses, of course, is not. Nei­ther is the so­lu­tion. The bill is the prod­uct of hours of dis­cus­sions among di­verse in­ter­est groups.

The de­tails of the cour­ses are to be de­ter­mined, but we know in gen­eral what must be cov­ered.

“Say that you end up hav­ing a dis­agree­ment with the law en­force­ment of­fi­cer,” West said at the com­mit­tee hear­ing. “Do you try to ar­gue your case on the street or do you wait? Do you com­ply and then com­plain? And if you de­cide to com­plain, where do you com­plain?”

Many of us don’t need a course on that. Too many of us do.

State Sen. John Whit­mire, D-Hous­ton, a bill spon­sor, said the mes­sage is sim­ple for any­one who thinks a cop is treat­ing them un­fairly, or worse: “You don’t try to set­tle it on the streets of Texas. You go to in­ter­nal af­fairs, you go to your par­ents, you go to your min­is­ter and al­low ev­ery­one to then deal re­spect­fully with one an­other.”

Traf­fic stop rules and pro­to­cols change. Whit­mire noted cops used to want you to get out of your car. Now they don’t, un­less asked.

“I was blessed to have par­ents that taught me that,” Whit­mire said of how to in­ter­act with po­lice. “And I have men­tors that taught me that. But un­for­tu­nately, a lot of young people, I think, are hav­ing to learn that for them­selves (or) maybe learn from peers. And that’s not al­ways the good in­struc­tion.”

I asked West what it means that SB 30 is needed.

“The re­al­ity is that we’ve had prob­lems,” he said. “But the ques­tion is how do we find so­lu­tions to those prob­lems.”

He’s cor­rect. These are the times we live in, as Perry said. And it was clear Perry was con­cerned about — though not un­sup­port­ive of — the pro­posed so­lu­tion.

Perry told West that “we con­tinue to lay so­cial prob­lems, be it com­mon sense or other­wise, at the feet of our pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.” Perry said some things used to be com­mon sense: “You typ­i­cally don’t have a dis­agree­ment with some­one wear­ing a gun and a badge in a dis­re­spect­ful man­ner. But that’s not the days we live in to­day.”

All Perry was look­ing for — and he got it — was as­sur­ance from West that SB 30 wouldn’t re­quire a full class in how to in­ter­act with cops. West said it would just be a mo­d­ule in a class.

Menén­dez later pin­pointed the prob­lem: “Some­times, young people don’t see law en­force­ment as peace­keep­ers, and we have got to do what we can to re­store that re­la­tion­ship.”

James Nash, an African-Amer­i­can pas­tor from Hous­ton, stood with SB 30 sup­port­ers at the press con­fer­ence and com­mit­tee hear­ing. He said some young people see cops as “the en­emy.”

“For too long,” Nash said, “our young­sters have been told by oth­ers that we don’t have to re­spect po­lice.”

Mull that for a mo­ment. And con­sider that, although all po­lice de­serve re­spect, a few — a very few — for­feit it.

“We talk about bridg­ing the gap be­tween law en­force­ment and the community, which is very pow­er­ful,” Nash said. “We’ve got a march com­ing up this weekend. But what do we do af­ter the marches? … How do we reach our young men who have been told that all po­lice of­fi­cers are bad?”

“Young people want to be re­spected,” the rev­erend said, “but they have to be taught how to re­spect law en­force­ment.”

This has be­come some­thing that must be han­dled “in loco par­en­tis.” SB 30 is a mea­sure of the times we live in.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, is a spon­sor of SB 30, which tack­les po­lice in­ter­ac­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.