Assembly Bill A1114, Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, National, New Jersey State Assembly, News, Race -

N.J. Assemblywoman Makes Case for Controversial Bill Requiring Schools to Teach Students How to Interact with Police

Assembly Bill A1114, Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, National, New Jersey State Assembly, News, Race -

N.J. Assemblywoman Makes Case for Controversial Bill Requiring Schools to Teach Students How to Interact with Police

Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver is the primary sponsor of Assembly Bill A1114. (Image courtesy of the New Jersey Star-Ledger).

The recent passage of New Jersey Assembly Bill A1114, which requires school districts to instruct schoolchildren on how to interact with police, has been met with severe backlash from local activists and parents who feel the proposed legislation puts the burden of not being victims of police brutality on students.

For state Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D), these claims could not be further from the truth.

“This bill is not about a Hail Mary pass for police officers,” Oliver, the primary sponsor of the bill, said in an exclusive — and unexpectedly contentious — telephone interview. “It is not about police officers engaging in subordinating people or [placing people in] some sort of subservient position when they interact with them.”

Approved by a 76-0 vote by members of the New Jersey State Assembly on Thursday, June 22, the contested legislation would require students to learn how to interact with local law enforcement. The lessons would be taught as part of the state’s social studies curriculum in a manner that adheres to New Jersey’s student learning standards, according to the state legislature’s website.

The bill comes at a time of heightened concern over high-profile instances of police violence against African-Americans across the U.S. Local activists have argued that the legislation is designed to create a “fall guy” for police brutality, while protecting the powers already held by law enforcement officers.

“This bill is designed to create a scapegoat for police brutality and that scapegoat is New Jersey children,” said Alexis Miller, lead organizer for the Paterson Chapter of Black Lives Matter. “Instead of addressing laws that protect the immense power of police departments, students are expected to master respectability politics in order to protect themselves from officers.”

The assemblywoman, who represents New Jersey’s 34th District, said the idea for the bill came about after she was invited to speak at a seminar hosted by Jack and Jill of Central New Jersey. There, she said, she and Jiles H. Ship, former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement, were struck by questions from middle- and high-income African-American youths about how they should respond if approached by police in their communities.

Oliver said she later learned that a few years prior, NOBLE’s national office received funding from Allstate Insurance to establish an initiative for organization members to participate in seminars and workshops for public school students. Subsequently, she was contacted by a Black police director out of Michigan and a retired law enforcement officer out of Durham, N.C., who developed similar programs where they would stop by Boys and Girls Clubs, day care facilities and schools to instruct young people on how to interact with police.

Oliver thought it a good idea to introduce such an initiative in New Jersey, likening it to how firefighters visit schools via the Head Start Program to talk to students about fire safety.

“This bill is designed to educate young people about law enforcement, the judicial system and the criminal justice system in New Jersey, and to let them know what rights law enforcement has under the statutes in New Jersey and what constitutional and statutory rights they have as citizens,” Oliver argued.

Despite the discord, Miller said BLM is working to have conversations with those involved in crafting the bill, Senate members who still have to vote on it and the committee groups tasked with creating the curriculum.

“We just want to get a really wholesome view on everybody’s position on the bill, and what we’ve come to learn is that not everybody understands why the bill is an issue,” she said. “Generally speaking, a lot of people are doing this for the safety of kids. So, the intentions are in the right place, [but] its our responsibility to shed some light on why this actually won’t be the greatest thing for students and kids.”

Miller said no one from BLM Paterson has spoken with Oliver about the bill as of yet.

Though it made it past the state Assembly, Assembly Bill A1114 still must be approved by the Senate before becoming law. A revised version of the bill requires that students learn “an individual’s rights under the law when interacting with a law enforcement officer” and that an advisory committee be appointed to help the state’s Department of Education form the new curriculum.

Under the amendments, representatives from a number of groups including the New Jersey State Policeman’s Benevolent Association, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference and the ACLU of New Jersey would be selected to sit on the advisory committee.

A statement from the state’s Assembly Education Committee also mandated that the new curriculum consist of two parts: one part with age-appropriate instruction for children in kindergarten through fourth grade and another part designed for more rigorous instruction for students in grades five through 12.

BLM Paterson has since launched a petition urging residents to vote ‘No’ on Assembly Bill A1114. So far, the document has over 1,200 signatures.

“[This bill] is gonna affect everyone in New Jersey who have children or who go to public schools,” Miller said. “So we just wanted to make an effort to put it out to the public and say ‘Hey, if you don’t agree with this, sign our petition.’ It’s been useful.”

To hear ABS’ full interview with Sheila Oliver, click below.

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