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Minnesota state agencies defend fourth-grade reading material after police criticism

Minnesota state agencies defend fourth-grade reading material after police criticism
© Magination Press

The Minnesota Health and Education departments defended a children's book about racial injustice after a law enforcement trade organization in the state claimed it demonizes police officers.

The two agencies issued a joint statement praising the book “Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice” after it was slammed by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA), the Minnesota Star Tribune reported Friday.

The agencies said they recommend the book, which won multiple awards and was authored by psychologists, because it seeks “to help children process a difficult set of issues.”

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However, MPPOA sent a letter to Gov. Tim WalzTim WalzThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans Former Minnesota Democratic leader quits party Minnesota to close bars, restaurants, gyms for four weeks: report MORE (D) claiming the book is being used to “instill fear of police officers in young children.”

“Language in this book leaves the impression unchecked that police officers routinely pull over, arrest and kill black people without consequence,” MPPOA President Brian Peters wrote in the letter. “It says cops are ‘mean to black people’ or ‘shot them because they were black’ or police officers ‘stick up for each other’ to help police officers get away with doing bad things.”

“This book encourages children to fear police officers as unfair, violent and racist,” he continued.

MPPOA called for the state to cease recommending the book as a form of instruction and request “a follow-up conversation on the approval process of this book.”

The MPPOA, which represents 10,500 active law enforcement officers, cited the book being used for a book report assignment in a 4th grade class in Burnsville, Minn.

“Our members deserve better from the state than to see their profession demonized,” Peters wrote to Walz.

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The MPPOA was just made aware that this book depicting cops as killers is being taught in School District 196 -...

Posted by Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association on Friday, October 30, 2020

The New York Times bestseller was published in 2018 by psychologists Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard to critical acclaim and has been touted as a story that could help children understand racism.

The picture book features two families — one Black and one white — talking about a fictional incident of a white police officer shooting an unarmed Black man in their town.

It’s geared for children ages 4 to 8 and includes “an extensive” note to parents and caregivers “with guidelines for discussing race and racism with children, child-friendly definitions, and sample dialogues,” according to Magination Press.

Spokespeople for the Education and Health Departments said in their joint statement that the book “presents several complete conversations, as voiced by different characters, that many kids have likely heard in different parts of their lives.”

“Some people will find characters’ perspectives resonate with them, while others may find some of the perspectives challenging, especially when taken out of the complete context of the full conversations depicted,” the statement continued. “For example, in the same section of dialogue cited as a concern by MPPOA (Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association) there is a statement that ‘there are many cops, black and white, who make good choices.’ We share that view, and recognize that most who work in law enforcement have good intentions and are working hard to serve their community.”

Both the Minnesota Education and Health departments recommend the book on a list of resources about responding to racism. They include a video read-aloud of the book produced by the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center and Atlantis School For Gifted Youngsters.

The Hill has reached out to Walz’s office for comment on MPPOA’s letter.

In a statement to The Star Tribune, Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann didn’t respond to detailed complaints but said the governor’s top priority is the “health and safety of Minnesotans.”

Walz “works closely with a variety of law enforcement agencies every day to ensure public safety, and he’s determined to have MPPOA’s voice at the table for conversations on police accountability and reform,” Tschann wrote.