Texas lawmakers want schools to teach kids how to behave during traffic stops
“Students need to know what their rights are. It is not as simple as “obey and complain” – it’s too simplistic,” Senator John Whitmire told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee during a three-hour hearing on Tuesday.
"We are in an emotionally sensitive time,” Whitmire told community leaders, referring to increased tensions between police and citizens around the country.
He specifically stressed the case of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in July 2015 under suspicious circumstances while in police custody following a traffic stop.
"I don't have to go any further than to look at Ms. Bland's situation, which still is a tragedy that did not have to happen if both parties would have de-escalated the situation," Whitmire said.
In March 2016, then-trooper Brian Encinia pleaded not guilty to a perjury charge. He reportedly told his supervisor that he had no idea what he was “going to arrest her for, but we’ll figure it out when we get to the county jail.”
"Ms. Bland's tragedy is a huge motivation for me to hold the officer accountable and also assist the public in some of the better practices when they encounter law enforcement ‒ if Ms. Bland and the officer would have taken a deep breath, I don't believe she would have been taken to jail, where she ultimately met her fate, unfortunately because she was not treated right when she got to jail,” Whitmire said.
Whitmire called the hearing after announcing his proposal last week that would require Texas schools to teach ninth-graders how to properly interact with police. The idea behind the senator’s bill is that “increased training and education” for both officers and students would contribute to “positive” citizen-police interactions and relations.
Whitmire’s bill would require the State Board of Education to develop a curriculum that would advise young drivers on what to do when stopped by an officer.
“I want third parties involved,” he told the committee. “I want to get pastors, I want law enforcements to come into schools. I want it to be a civics lesson of everyone’s responsibilities.”
However, while Whitmire’s proposal was met with applause among lawmakers, it failed to have similar success among the local Black Lives Matter movement, which criticized the senator for being “so out of touch with the people."
“It’s saying to a little black child, ‘When the police stop you, and they will, this is how we want you to act, even though we know you’re still going to get killed,’” Ashton Woods, a spokesman for Black Lives Matter: Houston, told the Texas Observer. “It’s an insult. It just seems to me that they are trying to satisfy the demands and needs of the police unions.”
He has also criticized lawmakers for not inviting his group to testify along with witnesses from law enforcement groups, African-American pastors and the president of the Houston chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
“There was no true representation of the black community at that particular meeting,” Woods said. “It’s a sham.”
The tensions between the local black community and Texas officials have been especially tough after Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick repeatedly blamed the BLM movement for the death of five Dallas police officers in July.