Earlier this month, an elementary school in the Binghamton City School District read and recommended the children’s book Something Happened in Our Town to help address extrajudicial police shootings with young children. The New York Time best-selling and multi-award-winning book depicts two families, a white family and a Black family, having gracious yet honest conversations about the police shooting of a Black man in their town.
Upset by what they deemed a negative portrayal of law enforcement, the Binghamton Police Department pressured the school to remove their recommendation of the book and issue an apology. The local Police Benevolent Society released a statement and organized a “back the blue” event to intimidate the school board. The teacher who taught the book received threats.
The district superintendent sent an apology letter to all BCSD families, without public feedback or school board approval.
Many school families and community members were upset by the letter, which stated support and respect for “brave police officers that protect our community” and that the book does not represent the district’s beliefs about Binghamton police.
Binghamton police are not an exception to what we are witnessing with our own eyes across the country. Our sheriff consistently makes belligerent public comments and our county jail has an inexplicably high number of deaths.
Parents and community members also showed up to the school board meeting. Public comments were overwhelmingly in favor of continuing to use and promote the book. Many parents expressed disappointment and distress at the apology letter and the district’s choice to give in to law enforcement bullying at the expense of the school’s teachers and students.
Every person who spoke in against the book declared worry that it would teach children to be afraid of police. Children of color don’t need a children’s picture book to tell them this. They know. Children of color know police kill people who look like them, children who look like them, without consequence. White parents’ desire to shield their children from truth does not justify erasing children of color’s reality. Racism poisons many American institutions, especially law enforcement.
We must not prioritize a few grown men’s hurt feelings over the lives of our children.
Killing after killing after killing after killing after killing after killing after killing is not exception after exception after exception after exception after exception after exception after exception.
Scripture calls us to uplift the marginalized. Jesus’ example shows us to stand up against systems of oppression. We can do so right in our backyard.
Read more about the school board meeting.
Listen to a reading of the book.
Purchase the book from a Black-owned bookstore. (Link supports the Lit Bar in the Bronx.)