In Charleston County, South Carolina some parents, community members, and most notably the police have complained that one high school Summer reading list for its incoming freshman is promoting an anti-police message. Wando County High School has required that the new wave of students read both The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Both books contain characters who have been subject to discrimination, violence, and death at the hands of the police.
John Blackmon, President of the Fraternal Order of Police Tri-County Lodge #3 in Charleston County told local news station WCBD, that since the book list had been assigned, the police had “received an influx of tremendous outrage,” in the form of phone calls and messages.
“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,” Blackmon said. “This is putting in their minds, it’s almost an indoctrination of distrust of police and we’ve got to put a stop to that.”
For anyone familiar with the plot line of either book, Blackmon’s statements are a bit of a reach. In The Hate U Give, one of the more important and positive characters in the book is a policeman. And instead of just outright dismissing all police officers, the novel explores the way that police violence is actually symptomatic of a larger problem that relates to power and oppression all while making one of the characters who’s easiest to empathize with a representative of the oppressive police system. All American Boys does a similar thing in that the story is told from both the perspective of a black teen who was wrongly accused of a crime and then assaulted by cops and a white boy who saw the whole thing.
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Fortunately, he’s not being graded, because Blackmon has clearly not done the reading. He expressed his unfounded concerns by saying that, “There are other socio-economic topics that are available and they want to focus half of their effort on negativity towards the police? That seems odd to me.”
Per the police uproar, a “Request for Reconsideration of Instructional Materials” has been issued by the school. However, there has also been pushback against the attempts to force the books out of the curriculum, as many have argued that numbers clearly show that black people are targeted by the police more often and kids shouldn’t be taught to ignore that.
Of course, books being challenged for their content is hardly a new phenomenon and books that have been banned often deal with sex, self-harm, contain pro-LGBTQ themes or openly discuss racial violence and oppression. The Hate U Give actually made the American Library Association’s 2017 list of most widely challenged books alongside the likes of George, a children’s novel about a young transgender girl, and To Kill A Mockingbird, which almost 60-years after its release is still getting under people’s skin somehow.