Oakland is an activist city, and one topic that comes up often is relations between community members and police officers. Our community has, tragically, endured notorious incidents of police brutality; some, such as the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant, have captured national attention. When I worked as a children’s librarian in East Oakland, my patrons were primarily Black and Latinx children, along with their parents and teachers.
I am a White ciswoman, and I came to realize that I was deeply uncomfortable giving teachers in my library’s community the books in our collection about police officers–all of them seemed to state that police officers are always friendly and safe, negating the experience of many in my own community. I knew teachers wanted to share with their students the ideal picture of policing in America; however, many of these students experienced fear and stress over police officers. I reached out to other children’s librarians in East Oakland, and found almost all had stories of children and teenagers in their libraries who burst out crying or had panic attacks over rumors police were nearby.
I began coordinating some research, using input from OPL staff, on the books we had in our children’s collections about police officers; I was curious whether we had any books that acknowledged that some children had negative experiences with police. I collected data about these books on a spreadsheet, noted common occurrences, and counted people of color depicted in these books. To our surprise, we did not find a single book in our collections that honored the experience of children who’ve had frightening encounters with police officers, or even just have heard stories of police brutality in the media. Of course, it’s a tough topic, but in a profession known for helping kids find books to deal with tough topics, we were coming up empty.