Yesha Callahan

Mommy, Is He A Good Cop or Bad Cop?


“Mommy, how can you tell the difference between a good cop & bad cop?”, is a question my 9 year old son recently asked me.  I wish I could say that I had an answer for him, but unfortunately I didn’t. Trying to explain police brutality to a kid definitely isn’t an easy subject to tackle.  He watches the news and hears about incidents where police have killed people, and most recently he took notice of the Moats Family as they were trying to get into the hospital to see their dying family member. He couldn’t understand why the officer wouldn’t let the man into the hospital instead of giving him such a hard time.  When he asked me the question, I wondered if a white mother ever had their white son ask them the same question, and how did she happen to answer it.

In this day & age of supposed “post-racial” America, how do you explain to little black, brown & yellow boys that not all police officers are bad. I tried to explain to my son that there are officers out there who genuinely take on that career choice because they want to serve their community, but that there are also some out there who abuse the privileges that are given to them, and because you’re never able to tell which one you’re dealing with, that it’s always best to respect the fact that they are ‘authority’ figures.

I’m sure you’re probably thinking, well damn, that was  done with a lot of sugarcoating.

You’re right, it was.

Personally, I refuse to implant in my son’s mind that all police officers are ‘pigs’ and target people of color. I would never want my son in a situation where he comes across an officer and feels that it’s OK for him to disrespect the officer and cop and attitude. Just a few days ago, we witnessed that happening at our local grocery store. A group of teenagers (both white & black) were hanging out in front of the grocery store on their bikes & skateboards, and clearly there were signs which stated ‘no loitering’  allowed. An officer, who was black, approached them and asked them to go elsewhere. Did they move immediately. Of course not. My son asked me why weren’t they leaving.  The officer, for the 2nd time, asked them to move their group to the park, a few started to grab their stuff to leave but one kid didn’t bother to budge. An older lady who was putting groceries in her car, walked up to the kid and basically told him to listen to the officer & leave. He listened to the older lady, but apparently he didn’t feel the need to listen to the officer.  There folks lies the problem. Where was the respect for an authority figure? Was the kid taught that?

I refuse to raise my son to be disrepectful to any ‘authority’ figure. I will not have him ‘marked’ for death. Unfortunately, there isn’t a scarlet letter out there that can be placed on the foreheads of ‘bad’ cops, even though it seems that for millions of people the scarlet letter seems to be the color of their skin. Will there ever be an end to police brutality? In this post-racial America, that people talk of, unfortunately I think it will always be an ill of our society that we will have to deal with. One bad apple will always spoil the bunch.

Have you discussed police brutality with your child or younger family member? How did you approach the subject?

  1. April 1, 2009 - Reply

    Unfortunately in my community we are raised to fear and/or hate the police. My mother always told us to respect officers, use manners, and comply. My mother is a librarian so she would bring home literature for my brothers (once they became teenagers) to help them understand their rights.
    In the neighborhood the police would patrol and as children when we saw the patrol car we would run!! And when we saw the police chasing a drug dealer we would run with them tryna help them (the drug dealer)… Now that I think about it we definitely had a poor perception of police! And today, my cousins would tease the younger ones by saying “the police coming” and they would immediately get scared almost like you were saying “the boogie man is coming” and I would tell them not to do that and not to fear police. *Sigh* it is an uphill battle here in South West Atlanta… I wrote a finaly paper about this in my sociology course- heavy topic for me.
    Awesome Post Sis!

    • April 1, 2009 - Reply

      @Certified Diva

      Glad you liked it! I when kids are taught to fear, then that’s when they’ve been failed. Unfortunately what you described is true. I think if police took a more positive approach in the community, i.e, visiting schools etc etc, then maybe that would change the mentality that some kids have. I know in my community, growing up, the officers were always speaking in the schools, volunteering, etc etc. I think that really changed the perception of what people in our town had of the police. Oddly enough, in just the next town over (newark), there was a completely different attitude towards them from the teens/kids.

  2. April 1, 2009 - Reply

    I am upset to have to report that my son had a taste of prejudice police already @ 14 now @ 16 he has no trust in police, he is never disrespectful ,he is a very polite and well mannered young man, with an awesome personality, but do to an early case of racism in highschool, his perceptions of police and white people in general took a down ward spiral from his once care free attitude and love for all.
    He was in the area when a fight broke out between two black children, watching like most teenagers do, when the cops showed up they held ALL the black children even the ones who were not fighting, and let ALL the white children go, and this was in his school cafeteria. Since then he has a jaded perspective on the motive for cops. He says even the black ones he feels may be racists when they have a white cop as a partner. I talk to him about his fears , but @ 16 and from what he sees and hears, it is kind of hard to try and prove to him otherwise.

    • April 1, 2009 - Reply


      That scenario your son had to deal with is definitely unfortunate and so not uncommon nowadays. I still hope you can at least try to change the perspective regardless of that.

  3. April 1, 2009 - Reply

    I have two teenage girls as you know. That said, I think it’s a little but different educating a young Black male vs a Black female. I say that because it is my belief that a young Black male is a presumed target rather then a female. However, I think it’s equally important in spit of the gender, to teach your kids about their rights and what they are afforded per the constitution. They should be taught that cops are human just like everyone else and are not infallible. We should teach them the history of relations between Blacks and the police, but maybe that’s something they shouldn know as teenagers. I think we reap what we sow. If we want to have our children grow up to be productive respectful individuals, what better place to start by starting with educating them about the police without casting them in a negative light.

  4. April 3, 2009 - Reply

    how do you explain to little black, brown & yellow boys that not all police officers are bad.
    Why would you need to teach it to Asian kids? They get in less trouble with the police than any other racial group. I’ve never heard of driving while yellow.

    • April 3, 2009 - Reply


      Maybe I should have been more specific, and just said black & latino. Thanks for the pretentiousness.

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