Reducing violence and increasing safety requires building trust between the police and marginalized communities, a conference on violence prevention was told Wednesday
In order to build trust between communities of color and the police, law enforcement’s historical legacy of oppressing people of color, and its modern manifestations, need to be acknowledged and changed, said Myesha Braden, director of the Criminal Justice Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“Until we have provided truth, until we have ended harm, until we have established justice, reconciliation between police and the communities that they serve is impossible,” Braden said at a conference hosted by the National Network for Safe Communities at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
The parallels between the harmful behavior by police during the periods of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, and their current actions need to be recognized, Braden said.
“The community of people of color in the United States yet again have reason to say that the police are not here for us,” Braden said.
“The police are here to enforce an institution that sees us as second class. That is something that existed at that time. It is something that exists now.”
Not only does this harm need to be acknowledged, it needs to be stopped, Braden asserted, identifying killings by police as the primary issue that needs to be addressed.
“It is no longer sufficient, and it is harmful to reconciliation efforts, if police do not acknowledge that they can no longer be comfortable with the number of police killings, especially in communities of color,” Braden said.
“It is no longer OK for police organizations every time, as a reflex action, to come out and provide justification for a police killing.”
Braden pointed out the similarities between current-day hot-spot policing and slave patrols of the past, and explained that communities of color with a large police presence are not safe. Policing in these communities focuses on revenue-raising practices like issuing fines and fees rather than stopping violence, she maintained.
“The over-policing and under-protection of communities must end,” Braden said.
Toni McNeil, an organizer for Faith in the Valley, a five-county faith-based grass-roots organization in central California, said that while effective law enforcement is needed to keep communities safe, safety can and should be upheld by members of the community.
This is possible when leadership and responsibility among community members is established, she said.
“The truth of the matter is the majority of the people in the community care about the people in the community,” McNeil said.
Maria Trovato is a TCR staff writer and news intern.