Care and Feeding

My Son Wants to Become a Cop. I Have Huge Reservations.

I’m becoming sadder by the day.

A teenager smiles and makes a peace sign as he stands next to a police car
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Ljupco/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Joe_Potato/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have two sons. The younger one, who is 17, has mentioned over the course of a few years his interest in going into police work. He says he wants to be “one of the good ones.” My husband and I, both white, are educators who have demonstrated our commitment to social justice. Our son will be a high school senior in the fall and is talking about this career option with more confidence. I do not have positive feelings toward police and I never have. I resent the “enforcement” aspect and do not see how they “protect and serve” at all. At the same time, I’ve talked favorably over the years about efforts some departments are making to reform police work, so our son doesn’t just see me angry about police all the time.

I’ve reached out to a friend who teaches in a criminal justice program and talked with another friend who runs therapy groups with police agencies. I’ve read a lot. But I’m becoming sadder by the day. I feel if I talk with our son seriously about my reservations, he will dig in his heels. There’s so much he doesn’t see yet about the bigger picture of policing, and I’m worried he’ll become “one of them.” My husband is not as concerned and thinks our son is young enough to find his way. He thinks that the values we’ve instilled in him will prevail. I should mention that our son does well in school and is fairly well-rounded, though very quiet; he doesn’t like sit-down talks or “trapped in the car” talks. I don’t know how to proceed here.

—Mamas Don’t Let Your Sons Be Police Officers

Dear Mamas,

In the interest of full disclosure: I have similar feelings about the police—and being a Black man in America only adds more fuel to the fire. However, I tend to agree with your husband when it comes to your son.

You should lean on the upbringing you provided your son and be confident that he will know right from wrong if he chooses this career path. Granted, it’s no secret that many police departments across this country are filled with power-hungry racist frat bros with guns. It certainly will be difficult for him not to be influenced by the so-called bad apples, but it isn’t impossible—especially if he’s not easily swayed by peer pressure.

That said, even if he despises heart-to-heart conversations, you should still talk to him about your concerns about policing. The key is you shouldn’t have a goal of trying to change his mind—that probably won’t happen, and it could lead to resentment or anger down the road. Instead, you should simply state your opinion, talk about how important it is for him to set a good example if he chooses to become a police officer, and say that you’ll support him in whatever he decides. If he feels that you’re not there to move him from his position, he may become more open to listening to you.

We need as many good white people as possible to join the police force. I hope your son decides to take on the challenge of fixing this woefully flawed organization from the inside.

—Doyin

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