My Students, the Police.

AuthorBader, Eleanor J.
PositionFirst-Person Singular

It's the first day of the semester at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York, and everyone is tense and a little scared. The professor, in this case me, hands out a syllabus and then describes the course--a basic English comp class-pointing out deadlines before asking the students to introduce themselves.

It's a familiar but nerve-wracking ritual.

Typically, my classes consist of twenty-eight students between the ages of eighteen and forty-something. As they take turns saying their names, majors, and countries of origin, other students nod their heads in recognition or approval. By the end of the go-around, I'm racing to pin names to faces and intended fields of study.

But here's another truth: After sixteen years of teaching, I'm continually stunned by how many students cite criminal justice, and policing, as their career goal.

When I ask them to explain, they invariably say they are driven by a desire to help people. This group of American dreamers--from countries as diverse as Azerbaijan, China, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Palestine, Russia, and Syria--and a smattering of the U.S.-born--say that wearing the badge of the New York Police Department and taking an oath to serve and protect would be an immeasurable honor.

I am both humbled and horrified. How, I wonder, can these seemingly mild-mannered people show such reverence for law enforcement?

Over the years, I've seen students weep over the fate of a character we've met in a novel, lament the unfair treatment of a fictional person, and share their joy when justice is served. They've written essays that describe hardships in their countries of origin, then language barriers, a lack of access to medical care, and immigration woes once they emigrate. Still, they usually see these obstacles as temporary and express faith that they will succeed. Attending an American college like Kingsborough, they tell me, is the fulfillment of a dream long nurtured.

This makes their desire to join the New York City Police Department or work for other law enforcement agencies, all the more baffling. I ask myself: Can they possibly be unaware of the never-ending cascade of unprovoked police shootings and incidents of brutality that have become heinously routine?

I know, of course, that careers in criminal justice, while not lucrative, are union jobs with health benefits, paid vacation, tuition reimbursements, and pensions. This has to appeal to many of Kingsborough's...

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