Last week we encouraged the Shriver Center community and government officials to embrace systems-thinking and implicit bias research to develop solutions and strategies to prevent deaths like that of Michael Brown. Today in the wake of yet another grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer for the death of an unarmed African American, we want to express our support and stand with the many protesters in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland, across the country, and in the world.
Dr. King acknowledged that there comes a time "when silence is betrayal" as he chronicled the emotional and spiritual journey that led him to speak out against the Vietnam War. At that time, Dr. King wasn’t just speaking out against war; he recognized that he “could never again raise [his] voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos (referencing his condemnation of their damaging property in protest) without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: [his] own government.”
Dr. King determined that silence would be betrayal if he continued to ignore the struggles of those oppressed, the damage being done by the country’s unresolved addiction to violence, and those whose lives are irrevocably altered due to the fear of violence.
In that spirit, we must ask ourselves, at what point does our silence and inaction rise to the point of complicity and betrayal?
That time is now. We cannot turn our backs on the men, women, and children feeling the heartache on all sides of these tragedies. We cannot look the other way and hope that our country will somehow grow stronger as racial animus and distrust deepens. We cannot forget how violence, and the fear of violence by the police or actual criminals, imprisons people in their homes and communities and deprives people of the justice they are to be guaranteed. Many minority communities, who experience intrusive, abusive, and often illegal police practices, essentially live under a different and far less protective Constitution.
Now is the time for us to join our brothers and sisters who courageously protest in every corner of the world. We should work together, and use our influence, talent, and democratic and legislative processes to establish transparency, accountability, training, and the compassion required to extinguish the enduring flames of fear, and distrust. Let’s also consider:
1. Improving police hiring and training by:
a. Improving hiring as it relates to people of color;
b. Taking better account of the psychoprofile of the candidates for hire;
c. Including police training on theories of implicit and subconscious bias; and
d. Creating better scenario training for police so a larger decision tree comes to mind besides "shoot" when situations escalate.
2. Improving police accountability by:
a. Having police log the race of all individuals they stop to better illustrate disproportionate contact with minorities; and,
b. Requiring police body cameras that record all stops (and requiring that they notify tech immediately if there is a malfunction).
3. Improving media coverage of positive community interactions, positive outcomes of good police work, and police apologies for mistakes made.
4. Providing ways for trusted community members to have the authority to work with police and respond more efficiently to the needs of their neighborhoods.
While these kinds of improvements are critical, a framework focused only on improving police accountability and community relations will fall short of advancing systemic change. Just as Dr. King worked on many fronts, including racial discrimination in public accommodations and housing, education, and job inequality, so too must the legal aid community continue its efforts to address the multiple issues that impact access, opportunity, and equality. For example, by
- targeting economic and workforce development efforts in communities principally composed of people in the lowest economic quartile (no trickle down, direct action) and teaching all interested the 21st century skills necessary to get jobs in burgeoning sectors (tech, healthcare);
- increasing education funding and allocating funds so schools that serve communities with greater needs are supported;
- overcoming and remedying entrenched residential racial segregation existent in Ferguson and communities throughout the United States that deprive communities of color of a meaningful and equal opportunity to succeed; and
- strategically advancing economic development of those communities to advance real community revitalization.
Now is the time for members of the legal aid community to support protesters’ efforts and to make sure our work is designed to ensure an America that honors Her promise to all of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Carol Ashley, Vice President of Advocacy, and Kate Walz, Director of Housing Justice, contributed to this blog post.