For example, preventing children from gaining access to guns would likely prevent some police killings of children. Perhaps officers could also be trained to better identify toy guns in the field, and parents and children alike could be taught about the danger that toy guns will be mistaken for real ones. (In fact, in addition to the minors with toy weapons killed since 2015, more than 200 adults in that period were killed by police while possessing toy guns.)
Derek Thompson: The overlooked role of guns in the police-reform debate
Americans reach different judgments about how much attention the police killings of minors warrant from policy makers, and partisan and ideological divides obviously influence those judgments. But I suspect that regional differences in the frequency of these tragedies play a part too.
According to the Post database, the states with the first-, second-, and third-most fatal shootings of minors by police are the three most populous: Since 2015, 16 minors have been shot to death in California, 12 in Texas, and 10 in Florida. Seven have been killed in Illinois, six in Arizona, six in Ohio, and four each in Arkansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma.
The problem is not ubiquitous, however. The Post database indicates that, in many jurisdictions, no minors have been killed by police since 2015. That’s true in places with dense urban centers and large populations of Black Americans—including Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Rhode Island, as well as Washington, D.C. It’s also true in more rural states, such as Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
At what age should parents teach their kids about police killings? That question arose for me recently in my reporting on school curricula that teach kindergartners about them. When I asked whether that was too young, some educators argued that Black children need to be taught about police killings for their survival. Statistics show major racial disparities concerning which minors are shot and killed by police in the United States. Among such incidents since 2015, the Post reports that 42 of those killed were Black, 35 were white, 28 were Hispanic, and five were classified as “other.” (Gender is an even starker disparity: 103 were male, nine female.)
Still, the idea that 5- or 6-year-olds of any race or gender need to be taught about police killings for their own safety is unsupported by the data. Of the 112 minors shot and killed by police since 2015, nearly all were teenagers: 55 were 17-year-olds, 34 were 16-year-olds, 15 were 15-year-olds, three were 14-year-olds, and two were 13-year-olds. Some studies indicate that police officers are more likely to view Black teenagers as adults and Black males in general as more physically threatening than white males. Especially given such dynamics, talking with teens about how to act around police officers makes sense in my estimation, even though statistics suggest that they face dozens of more serious risks. Some parents—especially parents of color—simply want even young children to understand that racial bias exists in the world and that confrontations with police can quickly turn violent. Nevertheless, such lessons risk unnecessarily scaring children, especially very young children.