South Carolina police object to high-school reading list

Union says depictions of brutality in The Hate U Give and All American Boys promote distrust of police and ‘we’ve got to put a stop to that’

A police union in South Carolina has challenged the inclusion of Angie Thomas’s multiple award-winning novel about police brutality, The Hate U Give, on a school’s summer reading list, describing it as “almost an indoctrination of distrust of police”.

The intervention from the Fraternal Order of Police Tri-County Lodge #3 came after Wando high school’s ninth-grade class was asked to read one of eight novels over the summer holidays. Two of the titles upset the police union: The Hate U Give, which follows a teenage girl after she witnesses the shooting of her unarmed best friend by a police officer, and Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys, which sees a teenage boy trying to overcome his distrust of the police after he is wrongly suspected of shoplifting and then beaten by an officer.

President of the lodge John Blackmon told local site News2 that the union had “received an influx of tremendous outrage at the selections by this reading list”, questioning why the school had chosen to “focus half of their effort on negativity towards the police” when “there are other socio-economic topics that are available”.

In fact, there are eight books on the reading list, only two of which tackle police brutality. Thomas’s book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, but also includes a character, the main protagonist’s uncle, who is a black police officer and positive role model. It has won prizes including the Waterstones children’s book award, while All American Boys is the recipient of the Walter Dean Myers award for outstanding children’s literature.

Blackmon added: “Freshmen, they’re at the age where their interactions with law enforcement have been very minimal. They’re not driving yet, they haven’t been stopped for speeding, they don’t have these type of interactions. This is … almost an indoctrination of distrust of police and we’ve got to put a stop to that.”

The school’s headteacher, Dr Sherry Eppelsheimer said in a statement that a complaint about the books had been received, and that the school will follow the procedures outlined in its policies. This means a committee will review the books, as well as listening to the perspectives of the complaint filer and the teacher who set the books. The committee will then report to the school superintendent, who will make a decision.

The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to the school offering its help in managing the process and urging it to keep the books on its list. “Removing books that have been selected for their educational value solely because the ideas expressed in them conflict with some parents’ political or moral beliefs would improperly allow parents to dominate the public education process with their opinions,” it wrote. “For young readers in Charleston, The Hate U Give and All American Boys offer insight into the racial injustices many people of colour experience, and inspiration for young activists who desire change.”

Director of programmes Svetlana Mintcheva told the Guardian that The Hate U Give, one of the American Library Association’s “most challenged” books of 2017, would probably continue to attract attention. A forthcoming film adaptation will increase the book’s profile, “coupled with national tension over police violence and its disproportionate effects on black men”.

“We will continue advocating for open and nuanced conversations in our school system about such difficult but vital issues. It is a sign of the times that complaints over books, which used to be predominantly over sexually explicit material, are now increasingly over political issues, especially police violence,” said Mintcheva.

The books also drew support from high-profile authors including Hari Kunzru, who tweeted: “Call me a rabid leftist but I don’t think police unions should be weighing in on high-school reading lists.”

“I don’t actually believe that book-judging is a legitimate part of the business of policing,” wrote Neil Gaiman. “Local police union leader John Blackmon claims that they are only responding to the public reaching out to them to complain about the reading list. Because when people don’t like the books their kids are asked to read, they call the police.”


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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