Movie shines spotlight on ‘the talk’

A police officer talks to teens in a scene from the new movie "The Hate U Give."
Photo Courtesy of Google Images.

George Tillman Jr’s “The Hate U Give” centers on the topic of police brutality, one of the most contentious issues in American society today.

The film follows the story of high school student Starr Carter, a black girl from a predominately black neighborhood attending a predominately white school. Her world is turned upside down when her black childhood friend is shot and killed by a white police officer during a traffic stop.

Arguably the most intense moment of the film happens in the very first scene where Russel Hornsby (credited as Maverick in the film) gives his young children “the talk” about the dangers of dealing with law enforcement, and what to do and what not to do when pulled over by police.

This talk is deemed as almost a mandatory conversation in black families, but it is not seen as often in other households.

“I’d say it’s because of the myriad instances of police using excessive force against members of the African American community that have existed since the slave patrols in 1704. Black persons have to be certain our children are extremely cautious in their interactions with law enforcement so that a situation cannot escalate into something bad,” said Ray Von Robertson, an associate professor of sociology at FAMU.

The greatest reason why the talk is more prevalent in households in the black community than communities of other races is because of the alarming rates at which black drivers are pulled over. According to the Washington Post, Justice Department statistics show that “relatively more black drivers (12.8 percent) than white (9.8 percent) and Hispanic (10.4 percent) were pulled over in a traffic stop during their most recent contact with police.” 

Or, to frame it another way: A black driver is about 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than a white driver, or about 23 percent more likely than a Hispanic driver.

“It’s mostly because of racism,” Robertson said. “Additionally, officers possess implicit biases against African Americans, seeing us as potential criminals and they act on these biases. In 2006, the FBI released a report asserting that law enforcement across the country had been infiltrated by members of White supremacist groups. A few months ago you had a law enforcement officer in Louisiana who was fired because he was a member of the white supremacist group, the Proud Boys. These realities can explain a lot of the problems that we experience.”

Officer Terry Williams, a reserve deputy with the Gadsden County Sherriff’s Office, has a different perspective.

“Well, when people make it a racial thing does it necessarily mean that it’s racial? Gadsden County, for example is 80 percent black. So therefore the majority of pullovers are going to be who – black people,” he said.

Robertson said the movie show “the talk” plays into the narrative of white privilege.

“(The movie) plays into it by the basic reality that white parents do not have to tell their children stories of what happened to Tamir Rice or Michael Brown.

White parents do not have to tell their children do not play with toy guns because you might get shot by a police officer. White parents do not have to explain to their children why the officer is bending the young man’s arm like in the video in a shopping mall in Georgia that went viral a few days ago.

Officer Williams sees it different. “Let’s put it this way. Black folks need to take responsibility for their own behavior. When we do that, then we have a reason to go after the police and prosecute them and ensure that they’re doing they’re job. But we as black folks, Hispanics, white folks, or whoever, if we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do, there’s going to be repercussions. And we can’t pull the race card on that.

“Everybody wants to pull the race card. Now are there black men that have been killed unjustly like dogs, yes, they have. And a lot of it has been on the officer, but not all of it though. And so if we’re going to tell the story, we’ve got to tell the whole story. And that’s what nobody is doing.”