Staying Afloat

Paul Friedman, math teacher at Edward Brooke charter, wrote this on Facebook at the end of August.  I share it with his permission.  He writes:

Today my colleagues and I went canoeing with 150+ primarily black and Latino, low income middle school students in a wealthy white suburb. This at least the 6th time we've done this trip and it's always a blast. We canoe about a third of a mile (which can take up to an hour and half - I know, I was in charge of "sweeping" the river), BBQ at a park where the kids can run around and play games, have a lovely community meeting and then canoe back up river hoping that none of the boats tip over.

This year something happened that I am thankful I don't think many / any of our kids noticed:

Parks and Rec called the cops on us.

It's kind of a long story, but I think it's worth relaying because of ‪#‎ferguson‬ and because in the end it made me hopeful - at least a little bit.

When we arrived, the playground was full of mainly white toddlers and preschoolers. There was a small camp being run, too, with a similar demographic. Some of our kids went to the bathroom to clean out their shoes in the sinks after stepping in the river. Maybe not the best choice, but nothing major. Maybe they were a bit loud. A few minutes later, a police officer arrived, surveyed the scene, checked in with our principal, and left.

What we later put together was that the on-site Parks&Rec staffer (an older white woman) called her supervisor and told her that it was "crazy" at the park. The supervisor called the police and then came down to the park to check it out herself. Upon arriving, the supervisor immediately regretted the call because things were pretty calm. Clearly this was an overreaction by the on-site worker.

But then we heard the following story from said worker when she tried to tell us that it was all a big misunderstanding: the night before, a group of about 200 adults had used the picnic site. They had been a mess - overly loud, using excessive amounts of alcohol (including a mid-party liquor store delivery) that led to multiple people puking. They left the site a mess ("but hired a company to clean up" - we actually had to do a fair bit before the kids arrived in the morning to make it really ok for them to be there.) No cops called. The take-away that I have is that you can be a drunk-ass adult all you want in public if you're white, but be a messy, loud, adolescent of color is going to bring the fuzz.

But here's where hope comes back, at least a little. I know there's been a lot of negative attention given to cops recently, and rightly so. "Our" cop eventually came back and apologized to us. (Remember, he had done nothing wrong). He told us this kind of thing happens all the time and he makes it his business to tell the complainants that their call was inappropriate. The fact that this (white) police officer takes the time to call people out on their racial biases is awesome.

I'm thankful for that. And that my canoe didn't tip over today.