Exploring Contemporary Experiences of Policing and Racial Injustice

Last updated April 29, 2021.

This is the third Teaching Idea in a series designed to help students think critically about the long and troubling history between law enforcement and Black Americans. Use these Teaching Ideas to help your students bring a historical lens to these complex issues, engage with nuanced sources that represent a range of experiences with policing, and consider ways to build a society that ensures the safety of all people.


This Teaching Idea introduces students to some of the contemporary issues around policing and racial injustice. Students use their head, heart, and conscience to engage with six different sources, each of which offers a different vantage point. The titles of the sources are listed below, and you can find the excerpts and links to the sources in the Google Slides for this Teaching Idea.

Note: What follows are teacher-facing instructions for the activities. Find student-facing instructions in the Google Slides for this Teaching Idea.

  1. Explore Sources on Policing and Racial Injustice

    Note: The following instructions guide students to engage with each source as a full class. Alternatively, you could set up a station for each source and ask students to rotate between the stations, moving every five minutes, or you could assign groups of students different sources using the Jigsaw teaching strategy. Depending on how you organize this activity, you may need two class periods to give students enough time to engage with each source.

    The integration of head, heart, and conscience is always important to learning, and it’s particularly crucial when students are considering sensitive issues such as policing and the impact of police violence.

    Tell your students that they will engage with six different sources on policing and racial injustice, and you want them to use their mind, heart, and conscience as they listen to, view, or read each source.

    Ask them to divide a piece of paper into three sections. They should label the sections Head, Heart, and Conscience. And write the following questions in each section:

    What new information did I learn from this source?
    What emotions does this source raise for me?
    What questions about right and wrong, fairness or injustice, does this source raise for me?

    Note: You can show your students an example of this table in the Slides for this Teaching Idea.

    Then, project each source in turn, using the Slides for this Teaching Idea. Plan to give students a total of five minutes to engage with each source. After students have listened to, viewed, or read each source, ask them to choose one of the reflection questions from their Head, Heart, Conscience table and write a short response. You can also ask students to discuss each source briefly in pairs or small groups.

    Remote Learning Note: For synchronous learning, share the Slides with your students. Place students into small groups in virtual breakout rooms. Ask students to listen to, view, or read each source and discuss them in their small groups. Prompt students when it is time for them to move to the next source.

    For asynchronous learning, ask students to listen to, view, or read each source individually, using the Slides. You can ask students to share their reflections with you or discuss them during your next synchronous session.

  2. End with Journaling

    After students have finished viewing or reading each of the six sources, ask them to reflect in their journals using the following prompt:

    Which source is still on your mind after the activity? What ideas, feelings, or questions did that source leave you with?

    Remote Learning Note: Students can complete their journal entries asynchronously. You can also ask students to complete their reflection on an Exit Card to share with you.

Optional Homework: Explore an Additional Narrative

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote the article, The Life Breonna Taylor Lived, In the Words of Her Mother, for Vanity Fair. Ask your students to read the article and reflect using the same Head, Heart, Conscience strategy they used for the other sources:

  • Head: What new information did I learn from this source?
  • Heart: What emotions does this source raise for me?
  • Conscience: What questions about right and wrong, fairness or injustice, does this source raise for me?

Note: Vanity Fair offers a limited number of free articles per month. You may want to check to ensure you and your students have access to this article before assigning it.

Extension: Student Projects

Ask students to respond to one of the resources through a project. Students can generate their own ideas or use one of the following suggestions:

  • Create their own art collection, inspired by Adrian Brandon’s portrait series, representing the impact of police violence
  • Write their own police code of ethics
  • Research and compile additional statistics on policing
  • Write a personal reflection on policing

Visit the next Teaching Idea in this series: Creating a Society that Ensures Safety for All


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