Registration for Better World Day is now open! Sign up to celebrate meaningful student work Friday, May 5.

Policing in America: Using Powerful Topics and Tasks to Challenge, Engage, and Empower Students

Blair Baron's twelfth-grade humanities students at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Boston read complex texts about policing in America, including The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and the Department of Justice's Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, in preparation for an academic discussion.


- Many officers are quick to escalate encounters with subjects they perceive to be disobeying their orders or resisting arrest. They have come to rely on ECWs, specifically tasers, where less force or no force at all would do.

- I don’t know if I’m gonna be jumped on and y’all are gonna get upset. But I don’t feel as this as a problem.

- [Narrator] It’s spring and in Blair Baron’s 12th grade class, students are examining a profoundly relevant, contemporary, and complex topic for their final humanities learning expedition.

- But this is Ferguson, right? I can’t really say that this is a national problem.

- We titled this expedition The Successes, the Challenges, and the Possibilities of Policing in the United States. It is an unbelievably compelling topic for my kids. Almost all of my students are kids of color growing up in the inner city and this is a topic that affects them every day.

- [Narrator] Each student is preparing to write a research paper, analyzing a critical component of policing in the country. In preparation, they’ve been investigating a series of case studies and sources.

- [Blair] We’ve read a lot of articles from various newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. We are looking at Richmond, California as an example of the successes. Since they’ve instituted community policing, it has become a much more like positive relationship. We have looked at the shooting of the unarmed African American man in North Charleston, South Carolina. But the major sources we are looking at are The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. The primary source we are studying is the Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.

- There was growing outrage tonight after an unarmed African American teenager was shot in--

- On August 9, 2014--

- By police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.

- Michael Brown was fatally shot by--

- But there are conflicting reports about what led up--

- A white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

- To the shooting.

- [Narrator] Sparking a week of unrest in Ferguson and intensifying a national sense of crisis over inequality in the criminal justice system. After a seventh month investigation, the Department of Justice released its detailed analysis of policing practices in Ferguson. The Ferguson report is a remarkable primary source document based upon interviews with officials and citizens, over 35,000 pages of police records, and hundreds of hours of onsite observations in the community, in the courts, and side by side with police officers. In this video, we captured Blair’s class for two days. On day one, we see how a compelling topic combined with a powerful primary source inspires students to read and think critically. On day two, we captured the class in an academic discussion as students grappled with the complexity of the case studies, and the materials, and their own views about policing in America.

- FPD engages in a pattern of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

- This report is incredibly dense and it needs to be heard aloud to really comprehend.

- Electroshock inflicts a painful and frightening blow which temporarily paralyzes the larger. I think reading it out loud is very helpful because it’s not written like a narrative, so it’s kind of difficult to read. But when you read it out loud and have a discussion afterword, you really like understand what it’s saying.

- They rely on ECWs.

- Mm-hmm.

- [Blair] I have them work together in table groups, so they’re learning from each other, and asking each other questions, and pushing one another.

- Because it’s saying that there’s not enough information and that people need to be really logging police abuse like--

- I know a lot of the times with students, it’s like, “Well, when am I ever “gonna use this in real life?” This is something that we’re learning about it’s real life. You can be stopped on the street as you’re going home, as you’re walking to the bus. It’s things that we’re experiencing every day in one form or another.

- FPD engages in a pattern of deploying canines to bite individuals when the articulated facts do not justify the significant use of force, leaving serious puncture wounds to nonviolent offenders, some of them children. In every canine bite incident, the subject was African American.

- Once you find a topic that your kids really care about that is supported with great texts, your kids will work very hard. They will read deeper. They will question each other. They will push themselves. They will push each other and they will be completely invested in this content.

- As you can see, like all of us are students of color and that’s who most police are targeting right now. Because we’re able to have a text to self-connection, that’s what makes us work harder. We wanna read more so we can learn more about it.

- It makes me work harder because I’ve seen this happen to people that I know. Racial profiling or just being stopped by police on the street and a lot of people don’t know their rights.

- The Ferguson Police Department review is very interesting because it’s kind of just fact, by fact, by fact, by fact, which helps when you’re having a conversation. You could actually look back to your readings and be like, “Yeah, this is what’s happening. “This is when this happened and this is what lie broke.”

- DEA.

- It’s like when they have their police report, they don’t say how many times they fired their weapon.

- Is that illegal?

- I mean that, I think that’s about it.

- This focus on comprehension is so that we can get kids to a place where they are able to have a really critical deep discussion about these complex texts. Aisha, will you read aloud the debate/discussion norms?

- Talk to each other, not to me. Listen and respond to each other, rather than just stating your opinion.

- We start each discussion reviewing the norms. Now I need you looking at the sentence starters. We also review sentence starters for how to agree, how to disagree, how to ask a clarifying question.

- I really wanted to respond to what Phoenix was saying if you turn to page 71 of The New Jim Crow. Which the bottom, it says you can get pulled over for basically acting too calm, acting too nervous, dressing casually, wearing expensive clothing or jewelry, being one of the first to deplane, being of one of the last to deplane.

- I felt this is kind of biased. They’re trying to pose the police are these terrible people. The police department was created to put the Black man down, but they were created to protect us as citizens of America.

- I think that are our country is in a national crisis and I think that it’s people like you who don’t feel connected to it, I feel like that’s the problem.

- How do we get connected?

- Let’s pause, just pause because I want you disagreeing with one another. You’ve been doing so respectfully, continue that please. A lot was just said though, so everyone should take two minutes to jot down what was just said. Whenever we’re having discussions, we use a graphic organizer to really push the power of listening, and the importance of taking time to process, and think about what someone said before you respond to it.

- We always ignore the fact that there are Black people killing Black people. When a Black male kills a Black male, we don’t hear about it. The media doesn’t cover it. When a white person kills a Black person, it’s all in the news.

- I would say there are two main goals, which are related. One goal is to show our kids that they can do something about this, and that they do not need to just sit back and watch this happen.

- Have you ever posed the question to yourself why there isn’t a value on African lives by African Americans?

- Eventually I will be stopped by the police because of my race and I feel like that’s very important because if you’re being stopped by the police, you should know what to and what not to say. I don’t wanna be a part of that statistic where I’m already gonna be sent to jail before the age of 18.

- In the article, the Ghost of Dred Scott Haunts the Streets of Ferguson, Professor John A. Powell from the University of California Berkeley wrote, “We still have not “come to full recognition of Blacks “and other people as full citizens, as full people.” If you’re not out there letting your voice be heard and taking action where it counts, the odds aren’t gonna be in your favor.

- The other goal is to teach the power they can have academically and that they are completely capable of delving into these sources, and understanding them, debating about them. They can go to college in a few months knowing how to analyze these very complex texts.

- I feel as though I’m prepared to read things that are difficult and that I might not understand the first time I read it. But I know I’ve built like tools where I can reread certain things or look up certain things that will help me understand it. I think that it’s made me learn how to dig deeper. I understand what I’m gonna be encountering when I go into college and even further than college.

Read More

Created By

EL Education

Resource Downloads

Please log in to access the downloadable resources.

Related School



Grade Level