I am always struck by how children categorize community members in their play as either good guys, or bad guys, and everything that label seems to imply about their lives.
Growing up when my little brothers played cops & bad guys it was always a fight between who got to be the good guy- the cop, and who was stuck being the bad guy. The line was specifically drawn- the police were GOOD and the other guys- whoever else it was- was BAD.
In fact, even when I was student teaching in rural Virginia- where the children lived in extreme poverty- worse than anything I see from my students in DC- the police were usually categorized as good. The police were always called in to help during free play- to save the day and avenge the do-gooders. (Just once did we have a little boy come to school upset over a run in with the police- but even then the police were not categorized as "bad". His father's friend who had tipped the police off about where the marijuana was kept in the little boy's house- that friend was bad. The police were just trying to help.)
The kids I teach at my school rarely categorize police as good. In fact, the police usually tend to be the bad guys during their play- the police break into their houses, take away a family member, yell at them for no reason, and create an un-ending sense of fear. "The police are coming!" is all someone needs to squeal and everyone else dives for cover.
The children I'm meeting while volunteering show the same police = bad guys labels as the kids I teach during the year.
Is it indicative of living in an urban area? I certainly don't have much faith in DC police after the ridiculous number of parking tickets I've gotten that were written when I was parked legally (tickets that said the meter ran out when it hadn't, tickets that state I parked at different meter than where I was parked, tickets that are time stamped with a time BEFORE the ticket claims I left my car-it would be one thing if it happened just once. The fact that it's happened more than once is absurd. Apparently DC cops have no problem writing bad tickets).
Or is it something else? What makes them automatically see police as "on the other side"? Why do they love to walk past fire engines and ambulances on the street, but shake their fingers at the police vehicles we pass? What instills that sense of mistrust in their little eyes?