What Colleges and Universities can do to Improve Police-Community Relations

What Colleges and Universities can do to Improve Police-Community Relations

Video Courtesy of GMA:

In the wake of the death of George Floyd – and the protests that it has sparked around the world – public attention is focused on ending police brutality like never before.

Even before Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis, public trust and confidence in law enforcement and America’s legal system were already in a perilous state. The difference now is that calls are being amplified to defund and disband police departments as they are currently known.

What can America’s higher education system do to reduce the use of excessive force among police? As a public policy scholar who examines the interplay between race, policing and public governance, I see multiple things that colleges and universities can do to make a difference.

1. Teach courses that rethink public safety

As a professor, I help students and communities rethink and redesign the policies and practices that shape relations between police and the community. The idea is to foster a shared sense of responsibility for public safety and order.

In one course, I have had students develop guides to get people to make better choices about when to even call the police in the first place.

To aid in this discussion, I use a refrigerator magnet that has a decision tree on when and when not to call the police. It was designed by police and residents in the community of the University of California at Irvine after an incident in 2015 in which a neighbor called police on a 20-year-old black man who was mistaken for a burglar at his own home. The guide continues to be in use and is distributed to new arrivals by members of the University Hills homeowners association and other residents concerned with public safety. With a purpose to lessen unnecessary calls to police, the guide encourages people to question themselves and ask if they are calling the police because of the way the person looks versus what the person is actually doing.

2. Use voices from history

To better understand police practices from various points in American history, universities should create or use digital archives that catalog recordings of people with actual lived experiences from those times. For instance, to hear what it was like to be arrested and subjected to police brutality as a black man or woman at the height of the civil rights era in the 1950s and 1960s or to have experienced the unrest after the Rodney King trial in the early 1990s, students should have easy access to recordings of people who were there.

At the University of Virginia, students and faculty have access to the HistoryMakers Digital Archive, the largest African American video oral history archive in the U.S. The archive offers high-quality videos and audio. It also provides full transcripts for each interview.

3. Make use-of-force policies transparent

Campus police departments – and surrounding police agencies – should collaborate and make transparent their policies and procedures. This is particularly important when it comes to the use of force.

Colleges and universities can host and facilitate community dialogues to help the public better understand when police use of force is permitted under the law and when that force is excessive.

4. Research effective practices

Since research is a key focus of higher education, universities should investigate which practices are most effective – from stop and frisk to community policing – at reducing the use of excessive force, and which practices make it worse.

Universities can also shed light on how people with different backgrounds experience and view the use of force. For instance, one study found that blacks and Hispanics are more than 50% more likely to experience some form of use of force in their interactions with the police when compared to whites. On the other hand, whites and men are more likely to view the use of force as justified than nonwhites and women.

5. Producing diversity within public administration

I argue that in order to better serve the community, bureaucracies, such as police departments, need to reflect the diversity of the communities in which they operate. This is in line with something known as the theory of “representative bureaucracy.” This theory states the more the workforce of a government agency, like a police department, is representative of the people it serves in terms of its demographic diversity, the more likely it becomes that it will ensure that the interests of all groups are considered when decisions are made.

Research on the impact of representative bureaucracy in policing is mixed, however.

Some studies have shown that it improves the delivery of police services and on public perceptions, while others have found that it does nothing to change police culture. This is because, research has found, black and brown officers often feel pressured to not act on the experiences they and their communities have had, but to “represent blue” and align with the cultural values of the police departments in which they work.

Colleges and universities should partner with law enforcement to come up with better ways to understand and address the challenges, such as racial profiling and excessive use of force, that continue to harm relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

In the wake of yet more anti-Black violence: We must ‘fight the freeze’

In the wake of yet more anti-Black violence: We must ‘fight the freeze’

According to mental health professionals, when human beings encounter a threat we respond in one of three ways: fight, flight or freeze.

We can choose to confront the threat by fighting, either physically or verbally. We can run away from the threat in an act of self preservation; again, this can be literal or it can be an emotional and psychological retreat. Finally, we can freeze, an experience of physical or psychic paralysis that won’t let us fight or flee but temporarily immobilizes us.

The fight, flight or freeze reflex may kick in when people of conscience see or hear about the latest incident of Black death. I had this reaction when I first saw the video of George Floyd’s killing this week. A white cop calmly pressing his knee against the back of the neck of a prostrate Floyd, who was Black. Floyd pleaded with the officer, “I can’t breathe,” until Floyd lost consciousness and soon died.

Another human being reduced to hashtags: #JusticeforGeorge and #Icantbreathe

In the flurry of social media posts once the video became public, many people expressed a sense of helplessness. They said they did not know what to say or do. On Twitter, I tried to express my reaction this way:

“I’m numb. The kind of numb that doesn’t mean you can’t feel anything but that you feel all the things at once and don’t know how to name it or what to do about it.”

A numbness, like when you can’t feel your hands after being outside in the cold without gloves, is honest, even predictable. But as I probed my reaction, I actually discovered a handful of actions that might help get us unfrozen.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a model called the A.R.C. of Racial Justice that I believe can help us work through feelings of helplessness (and numbness) when we witness racism. It stands for Awareness, Relationships and Commitment. Breaking down racial justice actions into these three areas makes the prospect of moving again more manageable.


So often when we hear about another notorious incident of white supremacy and violence enacted upon Black bodies, we get flooded with emotions: anger, despondency, fear, frustration.

We need to sit with the feelings that come in the wake of an injustice. Taking external action without prior or simultaneous inward action will leave us working from an empty reservoir of emotional fuel.

We need to do the hard work of heart work. This fits under the “awareness” heading because we are increasing our self-knowledge.

When he saw my tweet about feeling numb, a therapist friend of mind recommended writing a letter to whiteness … and then burning it. He said, “The trauma needs somewhere to go and be released.”

I did this and it felt so good. I put words to my inchoate feelings and articulated my emotions. And I really liked the burning part. Black people need to do this because, as James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively aware is to be in a rage almost all the time.” We need to put that rage somewhere.

Hundreds of protesters gather May 26, 2020, near the site of the arrest of George Floyd, who died in police custody Monday night in Minneapolis, after video shared online by a bystander showed a white officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck during his arrest as Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

White folks can do something similar. Writing down your feelings in these moments is healthy. Maybe you have questions of yourself or others that you haven’t been able to verbalize yet. Maybe you have a sense of shame and guilt over your white privilege that you need to put into sentences and paragraphs.

Do it. Put it all out there. Then burn it.

Racism traumatizes both the oppressed and the oppressor, and that trauma needs to go somewhere and be released.


Earlier this week, I learned a new hashtag: #BirdwatchingWhileBlack. It came about because a white woman called the cops on a Black man, Christian Cooper, in New York’s Central Park while he was out birdwatching. The woman had a dog that was not on a leash, as the park rules required. When Cooper asked her to leash the dog, she decided to call the police and act as if the Black man was a threat to her physical safety. Good thing the man had his cellphone camera, so we could see what actually happened.

In the aftermath of #BirdwatchingWhileBlack and the unwelcome reminder that Black folk can literally be doing anything and still become the subject of surveillance and abuse, all I wanted to do was be close to my child. I packed up early from work and spent the rest of the night just hanging out and pouring into that relationship.

In a white supremacist society, Black love is a radical act. Building relationships with other Black people and people of color can be a way to fight back against the despair that hounds us.

So, Black people, love each other. Laugh together. Get on a Zoom call. Write letters. Call. Celebrate the relationships you have with other Black folks who know what it’s like to have their bodies perceived as threats yet can find reasons for hope, joy and love anyway.

White people, invest in the Black people you know. Ever since the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which served as a racial awakening for a lot of white people, I’ve had a handful of white folks call, text or email me whenever another horrendous act of racism makes national headlines. They’re not asking for anything. They’re expressing their grief along with mine, they’re asking what I need, they’re letting me know they’re praying for me.

Their words don’t bring dead Black bodies to life. They don’t indict police officers for murder. They don’t change the danger I face as a Black man whenever I leave my house. But they do matter to me. They are a slight sign that others know this is hard, and they don’t want me to feel alone.

So reach out. Be gentle. Don’t demand attention or affirmation. Just let the people of color in your life know you’re present when they’re in pain, and that you’re in pain, too.


That feeling of being frozen in the face of Black death comes from the regularity of the tragedy. It’s 2020. I vividly recall the national moment when 17-year old Trayvon Martin was killed for having brown skin and wearing a hoodie — and became a proxy for everyone’s thoughts about race and justice in America. That was eight years ago. Then there was a string of Black deaths, from Sandra Bland and Alton Sterling to Rekia Boyd and the Emanuel Nine.

When does it ever stop? Does anything we do make a difference? Will Black lives ever matter?

If we want to see widespread change in the racial structure of this nation then we have to commit to changing racist policies and practices. In the case of George Floyd’s death, which involved yet another police officer, we need to deeply probe policing in this country.

People participate in a rally May 8, 2020, in Brunswick, Georgia, to protest the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man. Two men have been charged with murder in the February shooting death of Arbery, whom they had pursued in a truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Activists have an abundance of recommendations. Campaign Zero, a nonprofit dedicated to ending police violence, lists 10 practices to achieve this goal, including: establishing independent review boards for local police departments; better training for police, including implicit bias and de-escalation training; and demilitarizing the police force’s weaponry.

Beyond reforming policing as it currently exists, some activists insist that the entire enterprise, rooted as it is in slave patrols and controlling Black bodies, should be abolished. They advocate defunding police departments and diverting the money to other areas such as mental health care, using restorative justice teams for help resolving conflicts, and decriminalizing many behaviors so that law enforcement is not required.

Some actions to affect policing at a broad level include:

  • Financially supporting organizations dedicated to eliminating police violence
  • Calling state and local officials to advocate for changes in their law enforcement platform
  • Meeting with local mayors, council members, and law enforcement leaders to hear their thoughts on policing and the community and to make your thoughts known
  • Demanding public transparency in the negotiation of police union contracts

Acclaimed writer Anne Lamott keeps a 1-inch picture frame on the desk where she writes. Whenever she struggles getting started writing, she looks at that 1-inch picture frame. “And it reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame.”

We can do the same with fighting for racial justice.

Whenever the massive problem of fighting white supremacy, racism or police violence freezes us in place, we don’t need a grand vision for reform and revolution. All we have to do is think of a “1-inch” action to get us going. It can be increasing your awareness of an issue, building a relationship or committing to reforming a policy or practice. If we keep going, then the 1-inch actions we take to fight racism can paint a beautiful portrait of justice and equity.

(Jemar Tisby is the president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective and co-host of the “Pass The Mic” podcast. He is the author of “The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

A Test of Faith: Key Witness in Guyger Trial Dead

A Test of Faith: Key Witness in Guyger Trial Dead

Video Courtesy of WFAA


Joshua Brown, a key witness in former police officer Amber Guyger’s trial, was shot dead on Friday night in the parking lot of his new apartment building, according to The Dallas Morning News. He lived right across the hall from Botham Jean’s apartment at the time of the shooting and feared he might get shot one day for his testimony. S. Lee Merritt, Esq., a civil rights lawyer and social justice activist who represents the Jean family, said on Facebook that he will work to find justice for the Brown family. Although it’s too early to say who or why Brown was killed, his mother suspects foul play as he reportedly had no known enemies and was a working guy.

This comes off the heels of Christians being conflicted on social media over the outward displays of forgiveness on behalf of Jean’s brother and the judge in the case.

If it turns out that the killers were retaliating against a witness, It’s almost as if they were hell-bent on making sure justice was not completely served for Botham Jean. (Of course, Guyger getting 10 years was somewhat of an injustice in itself.) Was it some kind of intimidation tactic to keep other witnesses from testifying against police officers — or white people in general? And more importantly, how do we muster up our courage to forgive the Brown killers, too? We know what the Bible says about forgiveness, but it’s a test of faith indeed as social media is coming down pretty hard on Christians after this latest tragic event.

‘Coming of Age in Mississippi’ still speaks to nation’s racial discord, 50 years later

‘Coming of Age in Mississippi’ still speaks to nation’s racial discord, 50 years later

Photo by Jack Schrier

Most memoirs are soon forgotten.

A rare exception is Anne Moody’s “Coming of Age in Mississippi,” which was published in 1968. It spoke to the day’s pressing issues – poverty, race and civil rights – with an urgent timeliness.

Fifty years later, the book still commands a wide readership. Read each year by thousands of high school and college students, it remains a Random House backlist best-seller – a title that continues to sell with little to no marketing.

As I research Anne Moody’s life for my upcoming biography, I often wonder what her memoir’s continued popularity means. Does it signal dramatic progress on race relations in the U.S. – or does it instead show us that, as former Sen. Ted Kennedy wrote in 1969, “If things are somewhat different, then they are not different enough.”

Till’s death opens Moody’s eyes

Written when Moody was 28 years old, “Coming of Age” is a gripping story. In spare, direct prose, she takes readers into the world of African-American sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South. As a child, she chopped and picked cotton, cleaned houses for white people, and wondered why whites had better everything – better bathrooms, better schools and better seats in the movie theater.

That mystery remained unsolved when, in 1955, Moody learned that white men had killed a black boy her age just a few hours’ drive north. The killing felt personal.

“Before Emmett Till’s murder, I had known the fear of hunger, hell, and the Devil,” she wrote. “But now there was … the fear of being killed just because I was black.”

Closer to home, whites ran her cousin out of town, brutally beat a classmate, and burned an entire family alive in their home. Amid such horrors, Moody feared a nervous breakdown.

But she resolved to resist.

In 1963, Moody became infamous in Mississippi after she challenged racial segregation in what would be the era’s most violent lunch-counter sit-in. At the Woolworth’s in Jackson, Mississippi, white men shoved Moody off her stool, dragged her across the floor by her hair and, when she crawled back, smeared her with ketchup, sugar and mustard.

Photographer Fred Blackwell captured a now-iconic image of this day, with Moody seated in the middle.

Anne Moody endures harassment from a crowd of whites at a Woolworth’s in Jackson, Miss. Fred Blackwell/Jackson Daily News, via Associated Press

In the early 1960s, Moody worked tirelessly as an organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality in Canton, Mississippi. But after facing daily death threats, she fled to the North, where she moved from city to city, raising money for the movement.

At each stop, she described what it was like to come of age, as a black woman, in Mississippi. At one, she shared a stage with baseball great Jackie Robinson, who urged her to write down her story.

So she did.

Readers react

After “Coming of Age in Mississippi” was published, the response was split.

Some readers viewed the book as – in the words of one reviewer for The New Republic – a “measure of how far we have come.” To them, the worst of racism was over, and Moody’s account served as a stark reminder of how bad things once were.

Many readers praised Moody’s story. Many in her home state, however, spurned it. Dell

Others, however, read Moody’s experiences of racism as simply one chapter in a current and ongoing struggle – “the sickening story of the way it still is for thousands who are black in the American South,” as Robert Colby Nelson wrote for The Christian Science Monitor.

Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy read it both ways.

He called the memoir “a history of our time, seen from the bottom up, through the eyes of someone who decided for herself that things had to be changed.” Still, he regretted that the book did not mention recent advances, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which enabled the election of several black public officials in Moody’s own hometown.

Meanwhile, for decades, Southern media outlets and public institutions shunned “Coming of Age in Mississippi” and Anne Moody herself. Hostile whites in Moody’s hometown of Centreville, Mississippi even threatened to kill her if she ever returned.

How much has really changed?

By contrast, today, “Coming of Age” shows up on high school and college reading lists throughout the South, and Anne Moody appears among 21 authors pictured on the Mississippi Literary Map. Her crumbling childhood home sits on the recently renamed Anne Moody Street and Anne Moody Memorial Highway, which now connects Centreville and Woodville, the town where she graduated from high school.

In Moody’s day, local public officials were all white. Now they more closely reflect the county’s 75 percent black population.

In 1963, Moody mourned the assassination of her beloved colleague, Medgar Evers, president of the state National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and watched in horror as local whites refused to convict his murderer. Thirty years later, Byron De La Beckwith was finally convicted of homocide and imprisoned for life. Today, visitors who fly into the Mississippi state capital, land at Jackson-Evers International Airport.

These shifts make “Coming of Age” seem, to many readers, an inspiring account of survival, resistance and victory.

But to others, the book is anything but a triumphalist story. Instead, its lessons are grim: In retrospect, civil rights victories seem superficial, while the brutal poverty and racism Moody described endures.

Compared to whites, black people in the U.S. are more than twice as likely to die in infancy, three times more likely to be poor, three times more likely to be killed by police, five times more likely to be imprisoned and seven times more likely to be murdered. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was gutted by a 2013 Supreme Court decision that emboldened states around the country to create new restrictions that prevent black citizens from voting.

Anne Moody was one of the lucky ones. She graduated from college, moved north and published a best-selling memoir.

But despite the accolades, television appearances, radio interviews and speaking engagements, she could never really escape Jim Crow Mississippi. It had deprived her of her family and a place to truly call home.

“Coming of Age” ends with Moody listening to civil rights workers sing the anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

“I wonder,” she wrote. “I really wonder.”

Fifty years later, many of us are still wondering.The Conversation

Leigh Ann Wheeler, Professor of History, Binghamton University, State University of New York

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Battle lines form over social justice: Is it gospel or heresy?

Battle lines form over social justice: Is it gospel or heresy?

Clergy and faith leaders march to counter protest the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017. RNS photo by Jordy Yager

An old question has recently found new energy among Christians.

“What does the gospel have to do with justice, particularly social justice?”

Justice has been a frequent topic these days — in the face of a stream of cellphone videos capturing instances of police brutality, conflict over the presence and future of Confederate monuments and racially charged responses to the nation’s changing demographics.

Christians, both as people of faith and citizens of this country, have pondered what to do in this current social climate. They have called for Christians to join or start movements for change as an explicit expression of discipleship and obedience to the prayer that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

And they have called for the church to make amends for the racial divisions of the past and present.

Others take a different view.

Where some see calls for biblical justice, they see heresy.

This week a group of Christians published “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel,” a response to what they call “questionable sociological, psychological, and political theories presently permeating our culture and making inroads into Christ’s church.”

The statement comes just after a short blog series posted by well-known Christian preacher and teacher John MacArthur, warning of the dangers of social justice.

MacArthur calls social justice a distraction from the gospel.

“Evangelicalism’s newfound obsession with the notion of ‘social justice’ is a significant shift — and I’m convinced it’s a shift that is moving many people (including some key evangelical leaders) off message, and onto a trajectory that many other movements and denominations have taken before, always with spiritually disastrous results,” he wrote.

MacArthur is one of the initial signatories of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, which echoes his blog posts.

While Christians from many traditions, races and ethnicities have displayed a concern for social justice, it is a topic that particularly concerns black and brown folks. We have endured a long history of race-based discrimination that did not simply disappear after the March on Washington, the passage of the Civil Rights Act or the election of the nation’s first black president.

The Rev. Pamela Lightsey, center, leads advocates from the Black Lives Matter movement as they disrupt proceedings of the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. The demonstrators marched into the plenary session chanting slogans and gathered around the central Communion table. Photo by Maile Bradfield, courtesy of UMNS

Statements that dismiss social justice send a message that the ongoing marginalization many minorities still experience and struggle against is of no concern to their fellow Christians.

Or to God.

Or to the Bible — despite ample scriptural evidence that demonstrates God’s concern for the poor and the powerless and anger toward those who create oppressive conditions (Amos 5:24, Micah 6:8, Psalm 103:6, Isaiah 10:1, Luke 1:52-53, Luke 4:18).

Although much about this statement needs discussion, I will highlight one section in particular.

It reads: “We affirm that some cultures operate on assumptions that are inherently better than those of other cultures because of the biblical truths that inform those worldviews that have produced these distinct assumptions.”

The best word to describe the assertion above is “ethnocentric.”

Who gets to decide which cultures and which assumptions are closer to biblical truth? For most of American history, white Christians have claimed that privilege. That privilege is now being challenged.

I’m tempted to refute the recent statement on the gospel and social justice point-by-point — showing how it falls short of the Bible’s call for justice. But I think our time would be better spent on other pursuits. There’s too much work to be done — work that will be delayed by endless debates.

Here’s my advice.

Many of the people who authored and signed this statement have large ministries and platforms.

Avoid them.

Find other authors, preachers and teachers from whom you can learn. People like Austin Channing Brown or the podcasters and bloggers at Truth’s Table or The Witness, where I am a contributor. Or read Howard Thurman, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Bryan Stevenson, James Baldwin or the other writers who have explored issues of justice.

If the supporters of statements that dismiss social justice as a distraction from the gospel headline a major conference, state your concerns to the organizers. If nothing changes, then don’t go.

If they do an interview on a podcast, find another episode to listen to. If they write more blogs to state their case, share other ones instead.

Statements like these are a distraction. They siphon off energy and attention that could be used to create new organizations and initiatives that help bring about justice and equality.

Instead of writing a rebuttal to the statement on social justice, why not write a proposal for a new scholarship to help underrepresented groups go to college and stay out of debt? Why not donate money to support ministries run by and geared toward racial and ethnic minorities? Why not research a cause and find out how you can get involved?

Refusing to give more attention to the people who oppose social justice is not a statement on their standing with God. This does not mean they are not sincerely attempting to follow Christ. It does not mean that they have not said helpful things on other topics in the past.

It simply means that in this case, they have made statements so troublesome that we must register our objections in visible ways.

Christians should never give up hope that people can change. Yet going back and forth, especially online, about social justice with those who see it as a dangerous intrusion into the church often does not alter anyone’s opinions and may lead to more frustration.

In the end, I think more people will be persuaded to change their minds about social justice by looking at the fruit of the people who engage in it rather than by arguing on social media about the validity of doing so.

Half a century after the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, it’s easy for people to claim that they would have been among the protesters and marchers and those who risked it all for the cause of justice. Well, the struggle for civil rights never ended. Now is your chance to get involved for love of God and love of neighbor.

(Jemar Tisby is president of the black Christian collective The Witness and author of the forthcoming book “The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)