MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
As we said earlier, police conduct towards civilians, particularly when someone dies, has become a flashpoint in American life. This happened in Texas last month, when an off-duty police officer shot and killed an unarmed man in his own home, claiming she mistook it for her home. And, of course, amplifying this is that the officer is white, and the deceased man was black.
But according to research by The Washington Post, there have been at least 68 police killings in Texas this year alone. A Texas state senator is trying to address this with education. He drafted a law that's just gone into effect requiring that high school students in the state watch a video about how to deal appropriately with police at traffic stops.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Please just go. Go through the light. Just don't let that light turn red.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: OK. Fine.
I think we're getting pulled over.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What? What? Are you serious? Oh, no.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Obviously, if I go over the speed limit, we're going to get pulled over.
MARTIN: Royce West is a state senator from Dallas who sponsored the legislation requiring the video, and he is with us now. Senator West, thank you so much for talking with us.
ROYCE WEST: My pleasure.
MARTIN: How did you come up with this idea?
WEST: Frankly, we have an over-representation of African-Americans and Latinos that end up in volatile confrontations with law enforcement during traffic stops. And I guess for Philando Castile is kind of the tip of the iceberg for me.
MARTIN: Philando Castile - he was an African-American man who was shot by a police officer in Minnesota.
WEST: Yes. And I wanted to see whether I could do something about it in order to at least define the behavior expectations of citizens and police officers. And what's lost here is that people thinking the legislation just focuses on citizens - well, it doesn't, and it doesn't just focus on a video. The video kind of sets the stage for additional course content for both the citizen and also police and police academies.
MARTIN: What will be expected of the police officers at the academies?
WEST: What we've done is defined the objectives of what we want police officers to get while they're in the academy. And, in fact, the length of the course is at a minimum of two hours. The video is just a part of it, sort of a primer.
MARTIN: The video that we saw, at least the video aimed at the students, depicts two - what appeared to be two white teenage girls, and they're pulled over by two African-American police officers. That is not the demographic that we're talking about here. And, in fact, nationally, about 79 percent of police officers are white.
WEST: Let me just say this. The purpose of the video is as a primer. You know, if we need to go back and mix it up, that's fine. We can do that. But the purpose is to make certain we define behavior expectations of police officers and citizens and that citizens know what their rights are when you have a traffic stop. If someone wants to get down and pick at who was cast in that video - OK, fine, I can't - I can't control that.
MARTIN: But why - forgive me, why is that irrelevant when the very issue that you said sparked your concern here is an African-American man in an encounter with a person who doesn't look like him? If that's the source of the tension, why would you select people who are...
WEST: Let me ask this question. You can pick at it, and that's fine because anything that I do should be able to withstand scrutiny. And if I need to improve on it, I will. But the objective was to find a mechanism by which we could establish behavior content for everyone. And I thought getting a driver's license was a perfect place to put the behavior expectations of citizens and make certain citizens know what their rights are. I thought putting it into schools and making it mandatory was a great place to put it also - also, driver's license courses, and also, the police department - police academies. And by doing that, you have a great deal of repetition, and hopefully that repetition will ultimately save lives.
MARTIN: Well, but the question I think some people might have is the question - the conduct of the drivers, or is the question the unconscious bias of the officers?
WEST: I think it's combination of both. How do we make certain that there is content that deals with that bias piece? How do we make certain that, in police departments, that they have psychological examinations that fret out that unconscious bias or in instances try to erase as best possible the bias? I'm not sitting up here saying that this is going to be the panacea because it's not, it's not. But I think that it's a step in the right direction in order to make certain that we know what the behavior expectations are of police officers and citizens during traffic interactions.
MARTIN: That's Senator Royce West of Dallas. Senator, thank you so much for speaking to us today.
WEST: I enjoyed it, and I look forward to listening to you soon.
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