You know the feeling you get when you've seen a great new film and you walk out of a theater saying to yourself, "So and so really needs to see this?"
That's how I felt when I exited the AMC Loews Cherry Hill 24 Sunday after seeing the new film The Hate U Give. I came out telling anyone who would listen, "This really is a film that all of America needs to see."
Some local members of law enforcement went to see it on Oct. 16 and walked away similarly hyped. They're co-sponsoring a free screening of the film to encourage their fellow officers to see it as well.
"We're hopeful that the screening of The Hate U Give will help officers understand some of the realities many face in disenfranchised communities," said G. Lamar Stewart, vice president of the National Black Police Association, Greater Philadelphia Chapter, in a text message.
The screening is scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 1 at the AMC Broadstreet 7 at Broad and Oxford Streets. The Black Police Association is co-sponsoring the screening, which will conclude with a panel discussion during which officers, mostly from the Southwest Division, where Stewart is a community affairs officer, can explore their thoughts on some of the movie's themes of social justice as well as black identity in white America. About 60 officers, including 30 police recruits, are expected to attend. Other sponsors include the church Stewart pastors, Taylor Memorial Baptist, and Be a Great You Inc.
I applaud the members of law enforcement for doing this. It's a really, really good idea, and one I hope will catch on in other police divisions and elsewhere.
Police are expected to always get it right when making split-second decisions in volatile situations. They're people, though, like the rest of us, and bring their own unconscious biases to their jobs just like everyone else. Unfortunately, we've seen how that can play out.
Based upon a young-adult novel by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give opens with a black father (portrayed by Russell Horsnby) seated at a table with his children giving them The Talk. That's a euphemism for when African American parents explain to their offspring how to behave when interacting with police. The dad, an ex-gang member, tells 16-year-old Starr Carter (played by Admandla Stenberg), "Just because we have to deal with this mess, don't you ever forget that being black is an honor, because we come from greatness."
The hands-down most riveting scene in what's essentially a coming-of-age story happens when a police detective attempts to explain to Starr, his niece, what goes through a cop's mind during a late-night stop of a motorist.
"A lot goes through a cop's mind when they pull somebody over, especially if they get into a pissing contest with the officer," the detective explains. "Are they hiding something? Is the car stolen? … If they open the door or reach through an open window they're probably going for a weapon. So, if I think I see a gun, I don't hesitate. I shoot."
Starr asks if his response is different if the motorist is a young black man vs. when it's a white man in a suit and driving a Mercedes. The officer responds that it is. Deep, right?
It's powerful commentary about implicit bias, the negative assumptions people tend to carry around based on skin color even when it's a black officer doing the prejudging.
Malika Rahman, the founder of Be a Great You Inc. and the screening organizer, told me she hopes next week's event will be a learning experience for the officers.
"Prayerfully they will get something positive out of it that they didn't have when they walked in," said Rahman, who works in the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office.
I hope so. too. Lives may depend on it.