Van Jones: Police Brutality

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Van Jones

Van Jones, ©2000 Eddie Adams


  • 9 – 12 and Higher Education


  • Justice, Fair Treatment

Additional Resources


  • Article 3: Right to Life, Liberty and Personal Security
  • Article 5: Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment
  • Article 6: Right to Recognition as a Person before the Law
  • Article 7: Right to Equality before the Law
  • Article 9: Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Exile


  • What role does law enforcement play in society?
  • What responsibility does the media, in its many forms, have to the larger society?
  • What mechanisms or institutions are in place to provide oversight of law enforcement agencies?
  • What can we learn about real priorities by reviewing approved budgets?


  • 120 minutes


After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Know who Van Jones is and why he is a human rights defender.
  • Understand the issue of police brutality within the U.S. and internationally.
  • Understand the impact media has in advancing a position or perspective on an issue.
  • Understand the connection between policies and financing policy positions.
  • Examine the roles of oppression and repression and police brutality.


  • Drawing inferences
  • Making conclusions
  • Researching, organizing and interpreting information
  • Inquiry and critical thinking
  • Group discussion


  • Social Studies Standard 1: History of the United States and New York
    • Commencement KI 2 PI 3; KI 3 PI 1, 3, 4; KI 4 PI 1, 2, 3
  • Social Studies Standard 5: Civics, Citizenship, and Government
    • Commencement KI 1 PI 1; KI 2 PI 1, 2; KI 3 PI 1; KI 4 PI 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
  • English Language Arts Standard 1: Language for Information and Understanding
    • Commencement Reading PI 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; Writing PI 1, 2, 3, 4
  • English Language Arts Standard 3: Language for Critical Analysis and Evaluation
    • Commencement Reading PI 1, 2, 3, 4; Writing PI 1, 2
  • English Language Arts Standard 4: Language for Social Interaction
    • Commencement Listening/Speaking PI 1, 2, 3; Reading/Writing PI 2, 3

NYS P-12 COMMON CORE LEARNING STANDARDS for ELA/Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12

  • RH/SS.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
  • RH/SS.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
  • RH/SS.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/ social studies.
  • WH/SS.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • WH/SS.9-10.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • RH/SS.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • RH/SS.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • WH/SS.11-12.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • WH/SS.11-12.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


  • Inhumane
  • Impunity
  • Intimidation
  • Racial profiling
  • Misconduct
  • Brutality


  • Justice
  • Civil rights
  • Human rights
  • Equal protection
  • Police misconduct
  • Racial profiling


  • Internet access


Student Activities


  • Instruct the students to read the Van Jones interview from Speak Truth to Power and to read the article Lessons from a Killing.
  • Ask the students to respond to the following questions:
    • What is excessive force? Is there a base standard or is it situational?
    • The Aaron Williams case happened 15 years ago. Do you think the situation has changed? Explain?
    • Identify three strategies regarding work with the media that Van Jones implemented in order to achieve justice for Aaron Williams.
    • Did Van Jones believe all police to be racist?


Split the class into two groups. One group will be given a case of police abuse in the U.S. and the other group will be given an international case. (If time permits, have the students research and then select the case they will work on.)

  • Ask the students to examine the following four aspects of the case:
    • How was the case covered by the media? Be sure to review at least two print media sources and at least three online sources. Ask the students to highlight key differences in reporting of the case.
    • Identify the primary and secondary players in the case. Did the case stay within the established law enforcement and judicial systems? Did community organizations get involved?
    • What legal framework did the prosecution and defense use to try their cases? Did they reference state, provincial, national, federal and/or international law? Which ones?
    • How was the case resolved? What was the response of primary and secondary players? Did the outcome of the case generate more interest or coverage than the initial case? If so, how?


  • Have each group present their findings to the class.
  • On the board or interactive whiteboard note the similarities and differences between how the U.S. and international case were handled.
  • Have the class discuss the joint findings guided by the following questions:
    • Was justice served? Explain
    • What should have been done differently by:
      • Defendant
      • Prosecution
      • Community support groups
      • Media
  • Have the class draw final conclusions about the prevalence of police brutality and how it should be addressed.
  • Their conclusion should lead to an action plan to bring the issue of police brutality to public awareness.


  • Frame the class for the students by explaining the connection among campaign promises or statements made to the media, advancing and passing policies and advancing and passing a budget to fully support policy implementation.
  • Ask students to select a state, making sure that as they are selecting their states, there is geographic diversity.
  • Have the students research their select state budget. Specifically, have the students focus on the following budget lines:
    • Education
    • Law enforcement
    • Justice system
    • Prison system
    • Social services
  • After the budget analysis, ask the students to research websites that will provide information on incarcerated men, women, and youths.
  • Once the websites have been identified, instruct students to find the following information:
    • The incarceration rate for all populations and ages in the United States
    • Graduation rates for incarcerated youths
    • The number of incarcerated people who complete a GED program and earn a GED
    • Unemployment rates for incarcerated populations prior to their arrest
  • Have the students report their findings to the class.
  • As a class, discuss the findings and any inferences that can be made. Their conclusion should lead to an action directed at allocation of resources at the state and federal level.

Become a Defender

Rally demanding justice for the police killing of Anthony Baez, Bronx.

Rally demanding justice for the police killing of Anthony Baez, Bronx, photo by Kirk Condyles/Impact Visuals, copyright ©1995.

  • While it is important to trust what is within the news, it is much more difficult to discover what is truly going on, especially when it is the law enforcers you are investigating. Interview known victims, friends and family of victims, and even the police force to hear the official accounts and what is not being reported by the government or media.
  • Invite members of local law enforcement agencies – local police, county sheriffs, state police – to your class to talk about what the job of being a police officer entails and what training officers have to prevent excessive use of force.
  • Discuss and debate your and your classmates’ perceptions of police brutality compared with what is in the law, what is portrayed in the media, and by the government. Do they align with each other? Compile stories of police brutality locally, nationally, and internationally and argue the pros and cons of the case. Do you believe that the amount of force was merited?
  • If there has been a specific instance of police brutality in your area, prepare materials for a teach-in at your school to inform both students and teachers about police brutality and how to work with the local police force to end it. This information can also be shared with civic and community organizations.
  • Research the United States’ official position on police brutality. What actions does the U.S. Justice Department take against law enforcement agencies that violate U.S. laws on police brutality?
  • Research United States Supreme Court decisions on cases dealing with police brutality. Create a time line of cases and their outcomes. Prepare a report for your class on the background of the cases and the outcome.
  • Contact organizations within the United States that work to eliminate police brutality. Find out what you can do to help end brutality and organize a branch of that organization locally.
  • Write to a federal official and file a complaint if you believe that what you have seen, heard, read, or experienced is a form of police brutality.
  • Find out what the state of police brutality is in other nations, whether they are democracies, dictatorships, conflict zones, or peace-keeping nations. Countries must work together to reduce excessive force by law enforcement worldwide. Prepare materials to present to your class and civic and community organizations on the background of these abuses and what actions can be taken to bring about the end to such activities in these countries.
  • Write to the United Nations Human Rights Council citing reasons to end the abuses of law enforcement globally.
  • Research international organizations dedicated to ending police brutality and volunteer to work on their cause.


The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is sponsoring an annual contest honoring a student who submits the best advocacy activity based upon the lesson studied. A goal of the lesson is to instill into each student that one voice, one person can make monumental changes in the lives of many. Tell us how you “Became a Defender”!


  • A one-page summary of the advocacy activity
  • Digitized copies of materials that can be sent electronically
  • Photos of the activity (please include parental consent form)
  • A one-page summary of how the activity made a change in the lives of one person or many


  • A week long “virtual” internship at RFK Center
  • An opportunity to meet the defender through a SKYPE visit,
  • A visit from Kerry Kennedy or a defender to your school
  • A poster of a Speak Truth to Power Human Rights Defender
  • A donation of a signed copy of Speak Truth to Power for the school library

The application and instructions for entry can be downloaded here (link for materials)

The deadline for all applications is the third week in November.

The winning student and teacher will be notified by the last week of January.

police brutality

Additional Resources

Van Jones Web site
A website dedicated to the different initiatives of Van Jones that includes resources for students and volunteers to get involved.

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights provides a number of different opportunities for activism both through local and national programs.

United Nations Home Page

Police Crimes
A website dedicated to raising awareness of cases of police brutality that provides a forum for the discussion of crimes committed by police officers and police ethic fact sheets.

“After Oscar Grant, just take guns away from US police officers”
Article from the Guardian UK detailing police brutality in America, with a special focus on the Oscar Grant case in Oakland, CA.

“Pickets, Riots & Police Beatings – the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City”
An hour-long documentary on police repression and brutality from the 2004 protests during the RNC in New York.

Stop Police Brutality
Website of the latest police brutality cases including articles, photos, videos and more.

Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality
A non-profit organized to help prevent police brutality by strengthening the communities of Detroit.

Police Watch U.S. Civilian Review Board
A website for logging all of the major police brutality cases in the US.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

One Response to “Van Jones: Police Brutality”