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Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'
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Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Christopher Martin is already thinking about a conversation he will someday have with his children.

Like many other African American parents in Baltimore, he will teach his kids two lessons about police.

“I’m not going to say every police officer is bad. Not every one is good,” said Martin. “But it’s going to be a long talk.”

The weeks after Freddie Gray’s death haven’t been good for that conversation. Gray died last month of a spinal injury after being arrested by Baltimore police.

Martin recently marched with his fiancée Quteara Johnson and their toddlers to show the 2-year-olds a peaceful protest.

His own mother still counsels him to stay away from night demonstrations, where police arrested hundreds of protesters this week.

“With all this Gray stuff was going on, she told me, ‘stay in the house with the kids, don’t come on the street.’ It’s wild,” Martin said

There’s frustration these talks are still needed. But a 2014 investigation showed the Baltimore police department paid out nearly $6 million in recent years over police brutality allegations. Most of the victims were black.

“It’s more about police attitude,” said activist Michael Mullen. “The only thing that changes is - it may be the color of the child, but it’s their attitude towards that teenager, let’s say, and how they react to him.

“Every black man that has a child, especially a boy child - you tell the girls too, but they kinda give the girls a pass; the boys, there is no pass. Once you become of driving age, you basically become a target. It’s that simple.”

Tanya Sharpe, an associate professor of social work at the University Of Maryland School Of Social Work, said family talks about issues like the police are important.

“For parents, I think it’s critical - it’s critical that they have very candid conversations,” Sharpe said. “Of course, developmentally appropriate. But candid conversations about what’s going on in their community.”

Former Baltimore policeman Rob Weinhold wants those talks to include obedience.

“Parents also need to work with their children and educate that when you are involved with a law enforcement officer, that you need to pay attention to the commands,” said former Baltimore policeman Rob Weinhold, who is now a crisis and issue management expert at the Fallston Group.

“You need to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to d-escalate that interaction. That flashpoint- that point of interaction, is where many things can go really right, or really wrong.”

When students took to the streets after school and rioters burned part of west Baltimore last Monday, 11-year-old Shane Carter stayed away. But he sees that anger as justified.

“I thought that police wasn’t the murderers, but now they startin' to turn into murders,” he said. “I thought they turned in murderers, not become them.”

Carol Guensburg and Chris Simkins also contributed to this story