Before I became a cop, I was a teacher and a coach. I loved my work because I found that the responsibility of educating young and impressionable children and helping them make a transition from childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood is one of the most important community service positions in society. Children are precious, innocent souls. In many ways, the person who once said “It takes a village to raise a child,” was right. Every parent, citizen, teacher, professional, and coach ultimately contributes to the success or failure of every child in our society. The job of child, adolescent, young adult, or adult mentor is a sacred trust.
Teaching and coaching are jobs that are not to be taken lightly. Not everyone has the skill set to work with children. Many of us growing up were blessed with good parents, teachers, and coaches who laid down a foundation of education and character that has allowed us to excel in life. However, and unfortunately, there are bad parents; and there are under-educated, ill-informed, and incompetent teachers and coaches. Some of us have failed in life because of them.
As many of us have learned growing up and in becoming parents, professional leaders, teachers, and coaches; life is full of "teachable moments." These are the unique, singular still frames in the movie reel of life where a mentor imparts a lesson, a bit of wisdom, or a learning experience that many of us still recall and use in our lives today. Those "teachable moments" should never be wasted.
As mentors, we must carefully consider and select teachable moments. We need to think about how we would impart them to those we teach; and how our information or wisdom might affect the mindset, character, and behavior of those very children or people who listen attentively to and are impressed by us. Our teachable moments can be keys that open the doors to inspiration, hope, good character, success, and prosperity; or they can lock one out of what our society offers by creating implicit bias, prejudice, distrust, and hate.
An important teachable moment was lost last week in the small town of Cahokia, Illinois, when a local football coach failed in his mission of mentor to teach a team of 8-year-old football players about several important concepts of American society that could affect the remainder of their lives in American society. The coach’s name is not important, but what he failed to do for those impressionable and naïve children as a mentor is.
According to the coach in question, before the game, there was a discussion amongst his players about what was causing all the strife and protests in St. Louis, MO. One of his 8-year-old players asked him about the protests and he responded by asking the child if he knew why people were protesting. The coach states that the child replied, “Because black people are being killed and no one is going to jail.” This was a reference to the recent acquittal of St. Louis police Officer Jason Stockley in the fatal officer-involved shooting of known heroin dealer Anthony Smith in 2011.
The kids indicated to their coach that they wanted to "take a knee" in protest during the National Anthem after seeing former NFL San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players stage similar "social injustice" protests. The coach states he responded to his players’ inquiry by telling them that "kneeling (during the National Anthem) is a show of respect…for innocent lives that have been touched by injustice." According to the coach, his teachable moment for his players was to let them know that "it’s OK to stand up for what you believe in." I’m not arguing that premise, as long as we understand that an 8-year-old has no understanding of what so-called "social injustice" is.
The coach has since responded to criticism of his actions by saying that his kids were doing nothing wrong in taking a knee in protest during the National Anthem and that he had no problem with it. He told a local radio station, "What I teach my kids is love, integrity, honesty, fairness, and respect for their boundaries." Nice words, but spoken by a mentor who was ill-informed, under-educated, and has no "context" of several important American concepts. Using football parlance, the "execution" of his teachable moment was severely flawed. As a teacher and a former coach, I find his actions to be inexcusable.
Hey coach, slow down here. These kids are only 8 years old. What do they know about social injustice?
Here is the teachable moment of the American concepts an 8-year-old can grasp.
Americans STAND for the Pledge of Allegiance and our National Anthem – You are very lucky to live in a free nation. A number of people and nations have tried to take that freedom from you and Americans of all national backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and religions have fought and died to protect your freedoms. You stand to acknowledge their sacrifices. You kneel when you pray to your God.
Americans STAND to pay respect for your nation’s flag – Our flag is not a piece of cloth. Its colors and design represent several important American values. According to custom and tradition, white signifies purity and innocence; red stripes represent the hardiness of our people and the valor and blood of our nation’s patriots who have fought and died for our freedoms; the blue background signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice. The white stars represent the unity of our separate states into one nation.
Americans stand when our Stars and Stripes are presented in respect, reverence, and veneration for our values and again for those who have sacrificed so much so you can live in a free country. Our flag is the most respected symbol we have in America. This is why it flies over every public building, from the homes of our citizens, and is draped as a final badge of honor and respect for current and retired military, police, and fire personnel who have died in service to this nation.
You have the freedom of speech, assembly, and protest; but use your freedoms wisely and respectfully – (1) Always know everything there is to know about an issue before you protest. Things aren’t always what they appear to be at first glance and if you make uninformed decisions, it can be offensive to others and embarrassing to you. (2) Our national identity and our values are what has created the free country you live in and the many opportunities that are open to you. When you take a knee during the National Anthem, or sit down during the Pledge of Allegiance, you openly disrespect our nation’s values and its peoples, and diminish our national identity in public. (3) Protesting injustices is an American right and value as long as you have clearly identified the injustice. But know the proper time, place, and behavior for those opportunities.
America is a nation of laws. You must also respect those laws to be a good citizen. Nations have rules and laws to keep the country running and protect their people. America is one of those nations. Here, we refer to this as “The Rule of Law.” Laws are designed to protect the weak, the old, the infirm, the young, and those of different sexes, ethnicities, and religions from the bad people who exploit and hurt others. Always obey the law and those who are charged with enforcing it and protecting you. You might not always agree with the law or their enforcers. You might even see them as “unfair,” but that’s not your call. We have courts that decide what laws are fair, when they are broken, and if you have been treated fairly by their enforcers. That’s the way our legal system works and we have the best one in the world. If you want to have a good life and be successful, become a good citizen. You first do this by obeying our laws.
What do police officers do? People who enforce our laws and who are responsible for protecting the good people from the bad are called police officers. Police officers have a very difficult and dangerous job. Why? Because bad people break our laws and they don’t want anyone including the police telling them what to do. These people are called "criminals." Sometimes bad people don’t do what the police tell them to do. Police then have to arrest them to protect us. Sometimes, criminals try to hurt or kill officers so that they can continue to hurt other people like you or to escape the police. When this happens, police have to use force to capture the criminals or to protect themselves. When this happens, criminals and police officers can be hurt or killed.
Who is Officer Jason Stockley and who was Anthony Smith?
Officer Jason Stockley was a police officer for the St. Louis Police Department. Before he became a police officer, he attended and graduated from the prestigious West Point military academy. He graduated and was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Army. He served 15 months in Iraq where he received numerous military commendations and was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery. Lt. Stockley was injured in Iraq and returned to the states where he was promoted to the rank of Captain. He was honorably discharged from the Army in 2006 and joined the St. Louis Police Department in 2007.
Anthony Lamar Smith was a known heroin dealer in the black community and a convicted felon who was out on parole at the time of the incident with Officer Stockley. This means that he was selling poison to kids like you and other people. Smith had been arrested and in prison before for selling drugs and having a gun. He was a criminal.
What happened when Officer Stockley shot and killed Mr. Smith? – Officer Stockley thought he saw Smith selling drugs to people and went over to Smith to stop him. Smith tried to escape and nearly hit officers with his car. Criminals sometimes try to run officers down with cars. Officers including Officer Stockley chased Smith who drove recklessly through the neighborhood. Officer Stockley hit Smith’s car to stop him. The officer says that when he went up to Smith’s car to arrest him, he saw Smith reaching for a gun. Officer Stockley was afraid Smith was going to kill him so he shot Smith and Smith died. Afterward, a gun and heroin was found in Smith’s car.
There was a trial because Officer Stockley was accused of murdering Smith, but a judge who looked at all of the evidence ruled that there was not enough evidence to believe that Officer Stockley committed a crime by shooting Smith in self-defense.
When people give you a second chance, keep your promise to become a better person. Anthony Smith had been given several chances by judges to become a better citizen, but chose not to and broke his word to the judges who gave him those chances. Your word and reputation are the most important things you have in life. Only you can ruin your reputation by lying or not keeping your word. Always keep your word to people you make promises to and people will respect and trust you.
Why is there so much trouble between police and the community these days? People have to remember that we have all sorts of rules and laws designed to protect us. Some laws are traffic laws. Other laws are made to keep criminals from poisoning and addicting other people with illegal drugs; to keep people from robbing us and burglarizing our homes; and to keep bad people from shooting innocent people with guns. The police contact and detain millions of people each year, but only 1 to 2% ever try to resist the police in doing their jobs. That’s not very many, but the news media and people playing “politics” make it seem like a lot. That’s not true, but that’s not to say that there isn’t some injustice in our country. However, remember that there are injustices in every country and we generally do a good job of trying to fix things when they go wrong. Other countries and leaders never do that.
Most people in our country never have any contacts with police because they obey our laws. Nearly all of the people who have bad experiences with police have broken laws. The people who have had the most serious problems with police where they were injured or killed were intentionally committing very serious crimes including trying to hurt or kill police officers.
Even if you break a law, you will never have any problems with police if you act respectfully, remain calm, don’t argue, and obey what the officer tells you to do; even though you may not agree with them. Remember that the court and not the streets is the place where justice is decided.
Finally, always remember that the police are here to help you, even when you get into a little trouble. Always strive to be a good citizen. Be honest, respect others, take responsibility for your actions, learn about the law and your rights and always show respect for your country and those who defend it and you will grow up to be a wonderful person who others will respect.
Can you just imagine if parents, relatives, friends, teachers and coaches explained America and our values like this to kids. Think of how many less Anthony Smith’s and Colin Kaepernick’s there would be in our society.
Ron Martinelli, Ph.D., CMI-V, is a nationally renowned forensic criminologist and law enforcement expert who directs the nation’s only Forensic Death Investigations and Independent Review Team. Martinelli, is a retired San Jose (CA) police detective who specializes in officer-involved shootings and in-custody death cases. He is the author of the book, “The Truth Behind the Black Lives Matter Movement and the War on Police,” and a frequent contributor to Police Magazine/PoliceMag.com. He writes a nationally syndicated column. His forensic site is www.DrRonMartinelli.com.