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February 19, 2016

Montgomery police honor civil rights history in officer training

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Essential question

How does understanding the history of the Civil Rights Movement affect race relations between African-American communities and police today?


In Montgomery, Alabama, County Police Chief Kevin Murphy recognized that many of his younger police officers were not aware of the turbulent civil rights history of their city.

In an effort to raise a more reflective police force, Murphy created an officer training program which included lessons on civil rights history, scenarios that mimic real-life scenarios of improper policing and a field trip to the Rosa Parks Museum.

Murphy said he hopes similar initiatives can be applied to law enforcement across the country.

During a commemoration of the civil rights movement in 2013, Murphy formally apologized to Rep. John Lewis, one of the Freedom Riders who was beaten by a mob after arriving at Montgomery’s Greyhound station in May 1961.

Murphy said the police failed to protect the activists and personally handed Lewis his badge, a sign of respect and solidarity, which brought Lewis to tears.

“Law enforcement needs to start to hold themselves accountable,” Murphy said. “You have to abide by the law when you’re wearing a uniform and set the example.”


Key terms

1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery — a series of civil rights marches along the 54-mile highway from Selma, Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery in 1965 that drew attention to racial injustices in the South and helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. What are some of the key moments of the Civil Rights Movement?
  2. Are there still civil rights issues that need addressing today? Explain.
  3. Why might specific groups of people find it hard to trust the police?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. What was the symbolic significance of retired Montgomery Police Chief Kevin Murphy handing his badge to Congressman John Lewis?
  2. What do you think Murphy means by teaching new police officers to “manage their fear” when confronting potentially violent individuals?
  3. Should the training in Montgomery be replicated around the country? Why or why not?
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