Wednesday, July 14, 2010

the bad guys against us

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?


Jenny said...

I'm not sure it has that much to do with the police in our area. I think many of our kids have their impressions of police imprinted from their own countries - either from what they've seen or stories they've overheard.

organized chaos said...

I don't know- since the kids I am working with this summer do the same thing I don't think it's just a view of police left over from other countries. I think it may be cultural, along with a product of socio-economic status living in an urban area. I think a variety of elements come together to make it so that our kids, and those like them, don't see the police as someone they trust. I don't think it reflects the police in our area either (although they are not always perfect) but there is something about how some of our kids grow up that seems to change their allegiances. It always fascinates me.

luckeyfrog said...

Some of our kids do the same thing, and I'm in a relatively little city (that I'm sure wouldn't be anywhere on a national map).

I think a lot of it has to do with how people at home talk about the "cops." Some families train that kind of mentality to the point where kids can point out a police car from blocks away- because that is how they protect their family. Plus, like you said- cops are the people who take away their parents or siblings or other family members, so of course they seem like the enemy to some of these kids, especially in cases where the rest of the family seemed to see nothing wrong with whatever the person was doing and 'blame' the police.

Course, our kids talk about having family members in jail and on house arrest all the time, too.