By teaching our students to think, care, and act, we empower them to build a peaceful future.

Welcome to Think, Care, Act, where teachers and students can find rationales and resources to infuse required curricula with peace, character, global, and multicultural concepts throughout the year.

To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can work effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

JUSTICE IS WHAT LOVE LOOKS LIKE IN PUBLIC: LESSON PLAN for using On Being Interview with Cheri Maples on Enhancing Empathy & Mindfulness Between Police & Communities of Color

“Justice is what love looks like in public.” 
Cornel West as quoted by Cheri Maples, On Being interview, 2015
“There's no them. It's all us.”
Cheri Maples

Who might say these words?

“When he leaves the house, I honestly don’t know if I will ever see him again.”

“There is a lot of suffering here.”
A member of a police officer’s family might say these words.  A black parent or spouse might say them also.  How can we bring empathy and mindfulness into the relationship between communities and police—and together build peace in our communities?

Through 2016, black men continued to be shot by police in alarming incidents out of proportion to those affecting white citizens.  And, white and black police officers were targeted in sniper attacks. 

As teachers, we need to help our students of various ages deal with the complex issues of police/community relations.  These include violence against black citizens and police, the Black Lives Matter movement, militarization of the police forces of our country, the effects of unconscious bias, and the role of fear in building “us versus them” confrontations.  Some of our students will be African American, Latino, Asian, or Native American, and some will have European American heritages.  Some will be children of police or other law enforcement officials.  How will we help a diverse group of students take the perspectives of others to build empathy and understanding?

I often tell my students, “I will not tell you what to think, but I will make you think.”  Now it’s time to say, I will not tell you how to care, but I will suggest ways to help you develop empathy for police, black citizens, white citizens, and members of our communities whose views on relations between police and communities may differ from yours or your family’s viewpoints. 

A Mandate to Think, Care, and Act
As teachers, we help our students grow their abilities to think, care, and act.  Now, we can teach them how to analyze each side’s positions and lived experiences, show each side compassion, and act helpfully in their classes and ultimately their communities to build peace and justice.  I have written previously about how to help students understand the Black Lives Matter movement and the injustices experienced by many members of communities of color in the justice system.  (See my September 2015 blog post: Preparing our Multicultural Selves to Teach/Reach All of our Children in the Era of Black Lives Matter.)
To those recommendations, I add using the letters, websites, and interviews below to help all students better understand the pain and suffering of both the police and communities of color in the United States today.      
Teaching Ferguson: “How can we educate ourselves and others, with the goal of promoting human rights for everyone?”
A few years ago, seventh and eighth grade students in my Model UN class wanted to investigate the issues surrounding police killings of black men in Ferguson, Missouri and Brooklyn, New York.  In gathering information, we were also careful to avoid the “he said/she said” of conflicting news outlets to focus on the possible reasons Mike Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths had provoked public protest in several cities.  We prefaced our discussion by adopting a goal to make our communities safe for our police officers as well as all members of our communities.  We wrote our goal on the board:

How can we educate ourselves and others with the aim of promoting human rights for everyone: police and community members, people of all races, ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds?

I explained that I experience less worry as a white driver in my community than my Indian neighbor, who had a disproportionate number of local traffic stops until she introduced herself to our local police as a resident of the area.  I introduced data indicating that neighboring New Jersey State Police had used racial profiling in traffic stops. 

In contrast, I also shared that I am honored to teach students whose parents are police officers.  I am proud of a former student who was a police officer in Houston.  He was so well loved in his community that “911” callers asked for him personally to come to their aid in emergencies.  In each step of class, knowing the variety of students and their backgrounds and experiences, we strove to maintain a balance of perspectives and to make the class a safe place for students to think for themselves.  Following up at home with family members was encouraged.

But when we settled in to analyze the Missouri Attorney General’s own statistics, we soon saw they revealed rampant police discrimination toward African Americans in Ferguson, Missouri.  Allowing the students to grapple with these statistics, we all had to agree: there is a problem in Ferguson that is likely replicated in communities across the United States.  Black drivers are stopped, searched, and arrested more often than white drivers, and in numbers far out of proportion to the population.

Letter from a State Police Officer to a Teacher:
That evening, I received an email from a student’s parent, a state police officer.  This veteran officer reported that his child had been distressed by my accounts about profiling by my local department and New Jersey State Police.  Over several days we had a long and thoughtful email exchange, and with permission, I include some of it here.  Always respectful, this officer asked for my consideration of his point of view.  I offer his words as an example of heartfelt dialogue we can foster. 
 “I should start by saying my wife and I have the utmost respect for you as an educator and we are blessed to have you teaching our children.  We openly discuss the world, national and local news events with our kids, and have recently spent much time trying to make sense of the recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson, MO and New York City.  We explained that while we may have different views about the government, political issues, healthcare, religion, etc., we are all citizens of this great community, state, country and world.  We should respect others’ opinions, listen to each other, learn from each other and each do our part to make the world a better place. 

“Recently there has been a tremendous amount of negative press coverage where our police have been portrayed as evil militant robots who are chomping at the bit to use excessive force at the slightest provocation. When in actuality, our police are husbands, wives, moms, dads, coaches and mentors.  It is our police who work around the clock patrolling our communities protecting those of us who obey the law from those who do not.  Believe me, I am not claiming that racism does not exist with law enforcement, because it does.  I am not claiming that there aren't those within the profession who misuse their authority or position, or those who use excessive force.  I do say with certainty that the overwhelming majority of police perform their duties within the confines of the law and the Constitution, and work hard to keep their communities safe.   

“Over the years I have worked with some wonderful, smart and dedicated people who chose law enforcement as a profession.  Throughout my career, I have had the pleasure to work with a racially diverse group of men and women who have come from varied socio-economic backgrounds.  A group who, while different, were unified by their desire to work in law enforcement; to serve the community honestly and faithfully…. 

“At the start of every shift I remind my coworkers that… (we are) 'People Serving People.'  As a member of law enforcement I feel it is part of my duties to understand the needs and feelings of members of the communities that I serve, and to communicate with them so that they understand me so that together we can continue to build a cooperative relationship and work to keep our communities safe…. 

“I am hoping that somewhere in your lesson plan you can find a way to spread a positive message about the thousands of men and women in law enforcement who are out there around the clock protecting and serving our communities.”
“Social Workers With Guns”
I often recommend the American Public Media program On Being as a resource for teachers.  Again, producer Krista Tippett comes to our aid with her 2015 interview of former Madison, Wisconsin police officer, Head of Probation and Parole Department, and Assistant Attorney General Cheri Maples.  Maples offers details that can help our students of all backgrounds better understand the perils and possibilities of policing.  The entire interview is available as transcript, and it would be helpful to assign it as reading prior to discussion and activities recommended below.  The podcast is available as well.
Cheri Maples was a social worker in Madison, Wisconsin in the 1980s, when a friend recruited her, “You’re athletic, you’re compassionate, why don’t you join the police force?  We do crisis intervention all the time.  We’re just social workers with guns.”  The Madison police chief was progressive.  In fact, he had billboards around town advertising the police force as the “the next Peace Corps.” Cheri had a family to support, and the pay would be good.  She joined.
Maples’s interview provides many insights into the toll of police work and the possibilities for bringing peace back into this work.  For example, Maples speaks of the hyper vigilance it takes to be a police officer.  While most traffic stops or domestic calls may go smoothly, officers are trained for the ones that go bad.  This hyper vigilance—and in some cases past experiences or the expectation of negative future experiences—leads to increased adrenaline and triggers fear responses.  In some cases police training itself is a recipe for disaster.  Training can be redirected, she says, based on her experience in the Madison, Wisconsin police department.  As well, she acknowledges the tension, grief, and post-traumatic stress police officers experience.  There should be mandatory (and skilled) counseling for officers on a routine basis, she recommends, to help them deal not only with tactical issues but emotional ones that arise from police service.
Maples also asks for a redirection of priorities, away from the militarization of policing evident since September 11, 2001 and the dawn of the “war on terror.”  She asks us to question whether our police forces are supposed to be paramilitary forces or community peacekeeping professionals (and argues for the latter).  She urges communities to pursue federal money for training that is not militarizing, but humanizing for police forces, clarifying: “If the military and the police mission get confused we're in big, big trouble out there.”  Thus, Maples urges community members to get involved with police departments and help define what community expectations are for use of deadly force, for example, and what the community will do to build communication with the police for the security of all.
As well, like the rest of the population, Maples reminds us that police officers have implicit or unconscious biases that impact their decisions about where to wait for cars with tail light issues or whom to stop on the highway.  Maples uses the analogy of types of automobiles to see how implicit bias works in policing. “So let's say that people who drive can be categorized as driving Fords, Dodges, Chevys, or Toyotas.  And let's say police officers believe the people who drive Fords are the most likely to commit crimes.  Even though that's not true. And research shows that's not true.  Well, then you're going to sit outside Ford dealerships.  And you're going to go where you think Ford drivers might be and because you stop many more of them, you're also, many more of them than you do the other drivers, you're also going to arrest more of them, which is then going to feed that bias.”  Research has shown that anti-bias training and mindfulness training can help break down such automatic reactions and harmful behaviors. (See the work of Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald in Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People or the website Project Implicit for more about Implicit Bias Testing.)
Fierce Bodhisattvas:
Maples stumbled onto the teachings of Buddhist Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and attended a meditation retreat in 1991.  She wondered how to reconcile his nonviolent philosophy of mindfulness with her job to carry a gun and use it if necessary.  He told her about the Buddhist concept of fierce Bodhisattvas: compassionate warriors who protect the community.  He asked, “Who else would we want to carry a gun except somebody who will do it mindfully?”
Maples began to practice meditation and mindfulness.  She even organized a meditation retreat for hundreds of Madison police officers, during which time they could express the toll their job takes, the dangers and stresses they face, and discover techniques to increase their effectiveness and decrease their tendency to shoot first and ask questions later, as the saying goes. 
“[T]hat's why mindfulness proved to be so helpful to me in my career because without tools of awareness, cynicism and an armored heart are almost built into the job. And none of us I think intend that to be the case, but police officers see people at their worst. And they need the support of their communities. People generally don't call us when things are going well for them….”
She speaks, therefore, about the balance a police officer must achieve: on the one hand, an officer must be compassionate, thoughtful, steady, and patient.  On the other hand, the officer may have to set boundaries in a different manner, with a “fierce compassion” that may be enforced with the badge or the gun, that become “symbols of skillful means rather than simply symbols of authority and power.”  Maples invokes Princeton professor and activist Cornel West’s observation, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”  This is the police officer’s ideal.
Maples calls on communities and police forces alike to retrain ourselves so that fear and aggression are not our primary responses to each other.  There’s work to do on both sides.  Police departments have to redress damage and rebuild bridges to communities, and communities have to transform their anger and work energetically for change.  She calls on each of us to participate in this process: “It's a radical political act to learn to live in more harmony with others. And to change the world or to love everybody is too big an ambition for any of us. But to be able to respond to this moment with some engagement and presence and compassion is possible for all of us.”

Cheri Maples ends her interview with a poem she wrote for police officers.  It is structured in the way Thich Nhat Hanh creates mindfulness exercises based on breathing. 
“Breathing in, I know that mindfulness is the path to peace.
Breathing out, I know that peace is the path to mindfulness.
Breathing in, I know that peace is the path to justice.
Breathing out, I know that justice is the path to peace.
Breathing in, I know my duty is to provide safety and protection to all beings.
Breathing out, I am humbled and honored by my duty as a peace officer.
Breathing in, I to choose mindfulness as my armor and compassion as my weapon. Breathing out, I aspire to bring love and understanding to all I serve.”

As I was preparing to post this blog, I learned Cheri Maples suffered terrible injuries during a bicycling accident.  There is more information about her condition on her Twitter feed, and I have added an action step to the lesson plan for those who would like to help. 
LESSON PLAN FOR CHERI MAPLES INTERVIEW: Bringing Empathy and Mindfulness to the Struggle for Understanding between Police and Communities of Color
Use Krista Tippett’s 2015 interview of Cheri Maples to build your students’ ability to think, care, and act upon the following issues.  Have students read the interview in its entirety or as excerpts you prepare.  They may also listen to the podcast.  Consider the following questions/activities for one or several class periods.  Adapt up or down according to age group of your students.
1.    Effect of uniform on body/mind: How does a uniform, gun, or bulletproof vest make a person feel, physically and emotionally?  Have your students take turns putting on a tight vest (it can be a heavy winter vest or life jacket).  Tell them to try to relax and breathe deeply.  Take off the vest.  What differences do they observe in their bodies?
a.    Discuss students’ experiences and Maples’s observation: “[T]hink about just how you dress to do this job. You're putting on armor. Yeah. You know, there's so many levels of putting on armor. On your heart. On your physical body.  It really is quite symbolic…”

2.    Toll of deadly force on officers in real life versus media: As homework or in class, have students to watch part of a TV “cop” show or movie.  They will log the numbers of times a gun is fired, or the numbers of people killed in a five-minute interval.  How many weapons are used?  What reactions do they observe on the faces, in the spoken words, or in the body language of law enforcement officials? 
a.    In class, ask students to compare their media observations with Maples statement about media portrayals versus the toll it takes on an officer to shoot someone.  Maples: “Are you talking to cops who are grieving?  And what I want the community to understand is something I said before, that for any officer who uses deadly force, even when it is justified, his or her life is changed forever.  And when you see these shows, it's like, you shoot 'em up. You shoot up four or five people in one week and you come back and you do it and then the next no emotion.  Exactly.  No emotional effects whatsoever and that is just not the way that it happens….”
b.    Have students discuss or write about this discrepancy between media and real life policing.

3.    Empathy for police and community member in violent confrontation: Educational psychologist Michelle Borba has written about the importance of perspective taking to help children develop empathy.  (See her book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in our All-About-Me World.)
a.    Based on police shootings in the news, ask your students to write a journal entry as a victim of police violence and as a police officer who has participated in a violent confrontation.  What are the emotions each must have been feeling?  How did each see the other?
b.    Share these aloud and discuss these questions: What could each have done to defuse the situation?  How might training for community members and police officers help?
c.    Discuss this statement from Maples: “But police officers are in a lot of situations where we experience the impulses of fear and reaction and resistance and these emerge very quickly and powerfully and they can propel us into aggression, and a solidity of self, and that's true for the people that we're dealing with too. I think of the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson. And I think that if both Michael Brown and the officer responding to him. They both experienced those impulses of fear, reaction and resistance and aggression….”

4.    Empathy for police and community members in daily life:  Maples speaks about the toll policing takes on officers: “And we get a first hand dose of seeing the effects of poverty and racism and violence and exploitation every single day. And this daily exposure to repetitive acts of violence and violations affects police officers….” Maples also discusses a community forum in which members of the Madison African American community shared their experiences of post-traumatic stress with members of the police force, “I'll never forget the effect of this man of color who was crying, just sobbing as he told the story of being taken out of the car and handcuffed in front of his son and the effect that that had on him.  Things like that were so powerful for me and I think any time that you increase understanding, you increase the chances of things going well.….”
a.    Have students investigate media reports and/or White House statements following a forum President Barack Obama held between members of the law enforcement community and members of the Black Lives Matter movement in July 2016.
b.    View the excerpt from the TV sit-com Blackish in which an African American family debates the police interactions with people of color.

5.    What does militarization of the police mean for our country?  Have students research the changes in police weaponry over the past decades.  Use the Independent Lens show or Newsweek article and website as a resource. 
a.    Does increased weaponry lead to increased confrontations?  Do police departments want such weapons as tanks and drones?  Who provides these?  Who funds them?
b.    Interview a police officer about changes in police weaponry.  How do such changes affect/not effect this officer’s experience of policing?
c.    What resources or programs could be put in place that might be more effective?
d.    Do gun control issues play a part in this discussion?  Do open-carry laws affect community-police interactions?  How?
e.    Have students research Time Banking, Community Mediation Youth Courts, restorative justice programs, and other forms of informal community “safety net” support building as alternatives to militarization.

6.    Examine the deadly force policy of your local police department.   Research the case Graham vs. Connor.  Maples explains: “I can't stress enough how communities need to look at the deadly force policies of their departments. I mean, it's such an important place to start because right now what we're using is this standard of conduct that was outlined in this case called Graham v. Connor that really outlined when an officer could be charged criminally with excessive force. And what the problem is most departments have adopted that as their standard for deadly force. And my question is do we really want this lowest possible bar of conduct that determined not to be criminal in nature to be the departmental standard for using deadly force? And I think not because just because it might not be criminal to respond, using deadly force in any given incident, doesn't mean that it's the right thing to do ethically.”
a.    What is the ruling in Graham v. Connor?
b.    Research a recent grand jury case involving a police officer’s use of deadly force.  What was the ruling?
c.    Are recommendations to be derived from studying the case? 

7.    Examining our own interactions: What part do you play in your community?  Are you a keeper of the peace?  Think of a recent interaction in which you experienced (as generator or recipient) aggression, violence, anger, bullying, or misunderstanding. 
a.    Briefly, without names, write about what happened.
b.    Consider this from Cheri Maples: “So any one of us can be the person who makes a difference in a contentious interaction or meeting by bringing a calm and steady presence to it.  Any one of us can be the person who rather than exacerbating pain and violence, transforms that by the way they bear witness to it or respond to it.”

c.    Read and breathe with Maples’s poem.  Now, write what you could have done to diffuse the situation you described.
d.    Write your own poem or slogan for mindfully confronting conflict in school or community.

8.    Taking action in our communities about policing:  What action might your students take, as a class or individually?  How will you respond to this idea from Maples: “I think the public is going to have to participate in reshaping some of the norms that drive the police department. And it has happened where people have organized peacefully to put pressure on the police department.”
a.    Hold a “teach-in,” lunch meeting, or assembly in which your students teach others about their study of police-community relations, and what they learned from the Cheri Maples interview.
b.    Write letters to their local police chief, newspaper, or school paper, recommending mindfulness and anti-bias training for police officers.  Referring to departments and programs such as those in Madison, WI may be helpful.
c.    Invite a local police officer, chief, mayor, families, or community leaders to meet with your students and allow students to present their suggestions in person.  Students should dress professionally for the meeting, creating presentation materials such as flyers, posters, and note cards to facilitate the delivery of their messages.

d. Participate in crowdfunding care for Cheri Maples.  Obtain information from her Twitter feed @CheriMaples and at the YouCaring site linked here:  
-Susan Gelber Cannon
Resources for Mindfulness in Policing and Teaching
1.    Listen to and/or read the transcript of Krista Tippetts’s 2015 On Being interview with Cheri Maples, “The Human Challenges of Police Work.”
2.    Listen to and/or read the transcript of Krista Tippetts’s 2002 On Being interview with Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Cheri Maples, and Larry Ward: “Being Peace in a World of Trauma”
3.    View the Independent Lens program The Militarization of the Police
4.    Newsweek article: Militarization of US Police Departments: Where have all these armored vehicles come from?  The military-industrial complex is hard at work, distributing armored vehicles to police department who may not want them.
5.    Have students explore their own implicit biases by visiting Project Implicit ( and taking the race (and other) Implicit Association Test [IAT], developed and explained by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald in Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.  Use the Blindspot to help students put their (likely) racially biased test results into perspective.  Explore other ‘isms with them: gender bias, ageism, size bias, etc.
6.    Read and discuss the White House Forum on Race and Policing report. Start here and scroll down the page for suggestions for improving community and police relations:  Report is here in pdf format:
7.    View the Blackish segment on black youth and police brutality.  Read about it here and see an excerpt:  
8.    Use my 2016 blog Creating Caring Community with Circles of Culture: Lesson Plan to prepare your classroom for such explorations:
9.    Use my September 2015 blog post: Preparing our Multicultural Selves to Teach/Reach All of our Children in the Era of Black Lives Matter.)

1.     Read former Philadelphia Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey’s New York Times Editorial (9/24/16):

Read German Lopez’s commentary on Vox News: American policing is broken. Here’s how to fix it (11/29/16):

Participate in crowdfunding care for Cheri Maples.  Obtain information from her Twitter feed @CheriMaples and at the YouCaring site linked here: 

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