It’s nearly impossible to shield young people from news about the recent Grand Jury decisions made regarding the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases, but it’s also important for adults to help them process what’s happening. With the caveat that there’s no one right way to have hard conversations about race and law in America, there are a few things to consider regardless of whether your audience is six or sixteen.
1: The news isn’t telling the whole story. To be fair, it can’t. Journalists are getting facts and opinions from a number of sources, and eventually they have to choose what to report back. Not every quote, theory or subplot will be heard, perhaps because of questions about credibility or because there’s just not room to represent the infinite number of sides to complex stories. When you’re talking with your kids, help them understand these realities and that nothing they see or read should be taken as The One Truth. Of course you can (and should!) use news reports that you deem credible to inform your opinions, and they can be good launching pads for larger discussions, but never stop questioning what might be left out of a news story. (For more, check out our free Guide to Understanding the News.)
2: Opinions and facts are not the same thing. This is especially important in the Garner/Brown cases, since the facts of what happened in the Grand Jury courtrooms may never be fully revealed. Pundits can guess about why a group of people came to a certain conclusion, but that’s about the best they can do when legal proceedings are sealed and jurors are prohibited from speaking to the public. But kids also need to understand that just because someone has a microphone, it doesn’t mean they’re right or know more than someone else. Example: When Representative Peter King makes remarks like, “If he [Garner] had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died from this,” he is not giving facts. As far as anyone knows, Rep. King is not privy to evidence or information being kept from the rest of us, nor has he spoken to any medical professionals with authority on the case. His statement is based on assumptions.
3: You can do something. It’s easy for adults and kids alike to feel helpless and ineffective when the world around us seems to be swirling out of control, but complacency and injustice go hand in hand. We all have the power to speak out and express ourselves, whether that’s by attending a protest, writing a blog post, making a photo essay, creating art, remixing a video or getting involved in some other way. Of course, in the midst of all this, help your children be open to other perspectives that they (or you) may disagree with. This can be especially hard in a period of outrage and fear, but empathy and understanding are key to keeping peace and working with others on big issues. Raising your voice is not only your right, it’s your responsibility for making change.
How have you been talking with your children or students about recent events? Tell us in the comments below!