MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The impacts of police violence and brutality may not be a lesson you think is typically taught in middle school.
But after the death of Tyre Nichols, one Memphis teacher said her students spent the day learning about what happened and writing letters about how they were feeling.
“We need justice for Tyre Nichols, because nobody in life should go through what his family is.”
“Police should not have the right to hurt someone until they get the order to do so.”
“The police are supposed to help us and protect us, not hurt us.”
“I hope this city could be better for people.”
These are words from seventh-grade students at Riverview K-8 School in South Memphis.
They may be young, but they know how police violence can affect a community.
“The students I teach, they are from alternative schools or they are in those zones where they are classified as high-risk targets,” Vontyna Durham, a long-term substitute teacher for Memphis-Shelby County Schools, said. “They’re around it, and they see a lot of what is going on.”
When 29-year-old Nichols died after a confrontation with police, Durham said her students had a lot of questions.
She talked with them about police brutality, juvenile crime and constitutional rights.
“They need to know about civic participation. They need to know about civic awareness. They are young, but they are members of this community,” she said.
After watching a news conference with Nichols’s parents on Monday, each student wrote a letter to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and councilman Edmund Ford Sr., expressing how they felt.
“Some were shocked, some were in disbelief, some cried out,” Durham said. “I said, ‘You want something done, Let’s not only talk. Let’s get something done about it,’ and I had them put their feelings on paper.”
Durham said she wants her students to know their voices count, and they have the power to make change.
“I wanted to see their take,” she said. “I wanted to let them know they are included and that we listen to them and see them.”
Durham said she plans to mail the letters to Strickland and Ford Sr. next week.
She encourages parents to have an open discussion with their children to talk about how they are feeling.
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