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Three Steps To Effective Action

How do we prevent police brutality? What can I do as an ally? I’ve been asked these questions repeatedly during the past week by school leaders nationwide. It is appropriate that school system leaders ask these questions because every school system is fully responsible a) for the discipline / behavior systems it deploys, b) for the safety officers / police officers with whom it employs and/or contracts, and c) for the extent to which the curriculum intentionally prepares students / staff to communicate with and respect the humanity of all people. While there are clear differences, much of the research around preventing police brutality offers insights that school systems can learn from as well.

Want to know what to do next (on any topic)? Whether in the community or in schools, my coaching remains the same:
  1. Awareness: read the research (start here and here and here and here)
  2. Acknowledgement: interrogate your own participation in the very challenge you are attempting to confront (start here, then go here and here)
  3. Action: take the next step informed by and grounded in your acknowledgement of your prior complicity.

My Experience
I have spent much of the past week angry and scared. Between the ages of 16 and 26, I had some sort of interaction with the police at least once or twice per year. Each time this happened I was pulled out of the car, handcuffed, searched, accused of stealing the car, accused of having drugs, car searched from top to bottom. Finally I would be let go 30-60 minutes later with “a warning,” having been handcuffed and humiliated every single time. And these experiences were not limited to policing in the community; I encountered similar behavior from school officials/police officers in schools. I was 27 the first time I was pulled over and not handcuffed. Just told that my tail light was out and then they drove off. I was so shocked that I hadn’t been handcuffed that I called friends: “you won’t believe this: I didn’t get handcuffed!”  My black friends were amazed and said I must have gotten lucky or that maybe there was a bigger emergency elsewhere; my white friends had no idea what I was talking about.

Many of my white friends had received tickets for driving way over the speed limit and some had even been drinking previously. But none were arrested and none were handcuffed. After one particularly brutal encounter, white friends of mine contacted the local police chief to advocate on my behalf. They were told that I “looked suspicious” and that the officers had acted appropriately. The trauma from my character being less visible than my skin inspired me to choose self-destructive paths. Even now, all these years later — as I enjoy more privilege than I could have ever imagined I might have, and even as I have had friends put on the uniform — the impact of those injustices lingers and I still carry a fear of what might happen whenever police come near me.

Action Grounded In Acknowledgement
We have much to do before America’s communities and America’s schools are places where all students have equal access to America’s promises. Racism, like all forms of systemic oppression, is a tireless and often faceless villain. When I experience anger and fear like I have this week, my appetite for going to work and making a difference becomes insatiable -- especially because it nudges me to acknowledge the privileges I have and the systems of oppression in which I have been a willing participant.

If you want a partner to talk through policy change and policy monitoring informed by research (awareness) and grounded in self reflection (acknowledgement), email me; I'm ready to step into action. As a dear colleague reached out and said to me this week: tu lucha es mi lucha.

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