A lesson plan based on the interview with Los Angeles police officers by students Eamon Cannon, Andrea Domanick and Rachel Erickson in the March-April 2005 issue of L.A. Youth.

By Libby Hartigan, Managing Editor

Grades: 6-12
Subjects: Language arts

Overview of lesson plan: Students will re-evaluate their own and others’ views of the police. Suggested time allowance: 45 min.-1 hr.

Students will discuss their views on the police, examine where their ideas come from, and compare their views with what the police have said.

Resources and materials:
— pens, paper
— copies of L.A. Youth March-April 2005 issue (one per student)
— blackboard or whiteboard

Write “Skeptical” on the board. The dictionary definition is “not easily persuaded or convinced; doubting; questioning.” Ask your students to give you some examples of times when they have been skeptical.

Ask your students what they think of the police. You will probably get a range of responses. Some students hate the police. They may have been treated badly by them, or seen it happen to a friend. Maybe they disagree with some of the laws that police enforce, like curfew, truancy or traffic laws. Other students may have a positive view, because they have been helped by a police officer when they were in trouble, or they have been affected by crime. Prominent cases of police abuse, such as Rodney King or the recent case in which 13-year-old Devin Brown was shot to death after he stole a car, may also influence people’s views of the police. Television and movie portrayals of police may also play a role.
     You could point out that some people hate the police even though they have never personally had any encounters with them—why is that? If one police officer behaves badly, does that mean that all police officers do? Students should consider how and why they have formed their views. Where do their opinions come from?

Reading. Have the students read the police interview of the March-April 2005 issue of L.A. Youth.

Reading comparison exercise:
Ask students to choose one of the police statements that they are skeptical about, and another statement which they believe to be true. They should try to include a reason for their views, based on personal experience, the news, something that happened to a friend, or another reason.
     On a sheet of paper, they should create three columns. In the first column, they should write the actual statement. In the next column, they should sum it up in their own words. In the third column, they should explain why they are skeptical about what the police said, or why they believe it to be true.

Ask students to read their papers. Which statements are they skeptical of? Which did they believe? Do the students feel they learned anything about the police from doing this exercise, or not? Why?

Extension exercise:
Ask students to read the complete transcript of the discussion between the L.A. Youth writers and the police officers. Available on www.layouth.com, it is 33 pages long. If they had to cut it down to three pages, which questions and answers would they include?

Example of three-column analysis

Column 1
Police statement:
“Based on the area you live in, based on the type of crime we’ve been having in the area, we may have probable cause based on our prior knowledge and experience that this could be gang or some type of activity that we want to investigate further.”

Column 2
What the officer was saying:
Police stop people, not because of racial profiling, but if they have some reason to think they might be in a gang or involved in a crime.

Column 3
Why I am skeptical:
I have been hassled and treated with no respect because I am Latino, and there’s no gangs around where I live.