Ochs on Citizen Review Boards

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Ever wonder about citizens involved in police misconduct matters?

Gadfly believes Allentown may be voting on a CRB tomorrow night. Will be interesting to see what happens there.

Gadfly was struck by such info on different forms of CRBs in the Rushin article discussed earlier: “Communities could elect civilians to a commission tasked with the creation of police disciplinary procedures, with recommendations from police management and union leaders. Communities could establish notice-and-comment procedures, similar to those employed by many administrative agencies, to promulgate disciplinary policies. Conversely, states could require communities to establish police disciplinary procedures in the same manner that they establish municipal ordinances—presumably through a public hearing and vote by local elected officials.”

Here are some notes by Prof Holona Ochs.

Ochs, Citizen Review Boards

Clips:

CRBs are committees charged with providing oversight of police compliance with the law and potentially offering transparency, accountability, and input regarding the administrative processes.

Members of the public cite the following potential benefits of citizen oversight:
(1) satisfy public concerns about the accountability of the police;
(2) reassurance that the appropriate discipline is implemented for misconduct;
(3) discourage police misconduct; and
(4) improvement in the public understanding of police work.

[There are] four models of citizen review boards that fall within the reactive approach.

The Collaborative Audit model [is a proactive model].

Effective procedures for public review of citizen complaints against the police require a fundamental shift in the traditional handling of citizen complaints, and a complaint process that makes consistent efforts to inform citizens of the review process and receive all complaints, that provides thorough and unbiased evaluations, and that is likewise subject to review is extremely difficult to establish and maintain.

CRBs should be structured to facilitate cooperation, and the results of the independent investigations should produce findings and recommendations that require a formal response from political and administrative authorities.

In order for CRBs to function as either a specific or general deterrent, the disposition would have to lead to discipline consistently to impact policing outcomes, and the extent to which the mechanisms of internal and external oversight provide consistent sources of management information determine whether or not oversight is mutually reinforcing or simply inefficient.

Citizen Review Boards (CRBs) tend to be reactively rather than proactively designed, which can lead to a backlash by police over time.

Ochs: highlights from the Police documents

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Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday, August 11, 6PM: must register

Prof Holona Ochs:

Highlights from the BPD report (Mickel, Irons, & Strouse)

  • People of color make up 60-80% of incidents (compared to 44% of the city) and whites between 30-40% (compared to 60% of the city)
  • The single largest age range subject to use of force are 18-25 year-olds (an average of 37% of use of force incidents) . . . this range includes 18 and 19-year-old teenagers.
  • There are about 8-9 minors subject to force each year. In our view, subjecting minors to force is absolutely inexcusable.
  • BPD is quick to point out that incidents involving force are a small percentage of overall arrests. However, the majority of arrests in Bethlehem are for minor crimes like vandalism, drunkenness, and lesser offenses not even specifically named. Use of force in those incidents needs to be closely examined.
  • The Bethlehem Crime report revealed that 81% of Bethlehem cops are white men. (White men make up only about 30% of the Bethlehem population).
  • In addition, 70% of complaints to BPD are made by white people, which is again an overrepresentation. I recognize that it is less stark than the makeup of the police force, but it does speak to who feels that they have access to police as a safe service to call . . . and when viewed in combination with who is a police officer, this makes sense. ***
  • Bottom line: It’s white people calling a white police force, which overwhelmingly uses force on young brown and Black people.

*** Gadfly remembers a point made by Councilwoman Negron at last Council meeting, that the low number of Latinx complaints to the police department does not mean that all is good but that they are scared, do not trust the police. Real food for thought there.

Ochs graphs use of force incidents by reason

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Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday, August 11, 6PM: must register

Prof Holona Ochs:

This graph shows the purpose of the uses of force. It destroys the fallacy that police have to be forceful because their lives are at risk; instead it is most often just to make a successful arrest. In a context where Bethlehem primarily experiences nonviolent crime, one should question why police are using violence to complete their arrests of primarily nonviolent offenders.

It is also worth noting that the BPD use of force policy allows for very loose definitions of “threat,” and so the increase of using force to “defend” may be more about shifting ideas of what constitutes threat than a threat that you or I would define with all the facts in hand.

Ochs 4

Ochs graphs use of force incidents by race

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Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday, August 11, 6PM: must register

Gadfly’s been trying to cover a lot of context and background  for the meeting with the Police tomorrow night. Time, perhaps, to look at some of the documents provided for the meeting. Prof. Ochs is giving us some of her insights and that of her research team.


Prof Holona Ochs:

Ochs 1

Ochs 3

“We, as a community, need to imagine leadership differently”

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We, as a community, need to imagine leadership differently.

  • There is evidence that Black leadership can lead to more peaceful police-public relations.
  • There is also evidence demonstrating that women lead in the same ways and as well as men.
  • The inclusion of womxn in policing has a demonstrated effect on constructively addressing gender-based violence.
  • It is unconscionable that we do not have officers openly representing the LGBT+ community and no task force to assist officers as they try to improve their relations with the LGBT+ community as well.
  •  Addressing gender-based violence is inextricably linked to addressing white supremacy/misanthrophy.
  • Strong leadership is about active listening.

Prof Holona Ochs

“Scholars have noted that the doctrine of qualified immunity is not supported by the empirical evidence”

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Scholars have noted that the doctrine of qualified immunity is not
supported by the empirical evidence.

Prof Holona Ochs

from Hailey Fuchs, “Qualified Immunity Protection for Police Emerges as Flash Point Amid Protests.” New York Times, June 23, 2020.

Mr. Jones’s brothers, Robert and Bruce, have tried for years to hold the police accountable for Wayne’s death but have repeatedly run into hurdles: Most recently, the officers claimed they could not be held liable under so-called qualified immunity, an esoteric legal doctrine invoked by police departments across the country for decades in response to allegations of excessive force. It provides legal protections for officers when they are accused of violating others’ constitutional rights.

Once a little-known rule, qualified immunity has emerged as a flash point in the protests spurred by Mr. Floyd’s killing and galvanized calls for police reform. In the vast majority of cases of police brutality, officers are never criminally prosecuted. For families of victims seeking some sort of relief through the justice system, qualified immunity presents another obstacle to obtaining financial or other damages. Even in the rare cases where the officers are charged, as in Mr. Floyd’s death, the police can still claim qualified immunity if relatives or victims sue them.

Activists have seized on qualified immunity as what they see as one of the biggest problems with policing and argued that it shields officers from being held accountable in cases of misconduct. Police leaders said it was essential for officers’ ability to respond to calls and to make split-second decisions.

Qualified immunity is a focal point of the new debate on Capitol Hill over how to address systemic racism in policing and use of excessive force. House Democrats unveiled a bill that would allow victims of police brutality to seek damages from their assailants. A competing Senate Republican bill made no mention of qualified immunity, and the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, called it a “total and complete nonstarter.”

Though the doctrine is intended to protect officers from paying for the damages they cause, he said the result is that officers are more likely to abuse their powers.

Advocates on behalf of the police insisted that qualified immunity was necessary for officers to protect the public. Its protections allow officers to make life-or-death decisions in a matter of seconds, they said, and without it, fewer people might be willing to join police forces.

The doctrine does not apply in criminal cases like those pending against the officers involved in the death of Mr. Floyd.

In the vast majority of cases where officers are not charged, victims can pursue justice only in the form of financial or other damages through lawsuits. Qualified immunity can block them from obtaining relief.

“Officer pay should reflect the level of expertise and difficulty of the task and importance of the purpose. Existing incentive structures should be re-examined”

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Officer pay should reflect the level of expertise and difficulty of the
task and importance of the purpose. Existing incentive structures
should be re-examined.

This includes weapons training, mental health advocacy, and gaining literacy as a community on how we can better serve the diverse communities in Bethlehem.

Prof Holona Ochs

Gadfly takes advantage of a short post here to remind you what he’s been doing. He’s taking some action items provided by Prof Ochs and spinning them out one-by-one to encourage focus. There are a few more items on that list, and Prof Ochs has just provided Gadfly with some more info. So we’ll continue to flood you with information and things to think about before the Public Safety Committee meeting tomorrow night at 6PM.

Have you registered for tomorrow’s meeting yet?

“Recruitment and retention standards need to be evaluated and revised to prevent the infiltration of those with extremist/hateful/violent views”

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Recruitment and retention standards need to be evaluated
and revised to prevent the infiltration of those with
extremist/hateful/violent views.

The culture of policing is often cast as “us against them” rather than dealing with the various communities as civic minded peace officers. This is also evident in the LV (LU Core Team). Officers in our study regularly describe their approach in adversarial terms rather than seeing themselves as a part of the communities they serve. This is not universally true. Many officers enjoy engaging with the public and are quite good at it. They should be rewarded and encouraged.

Council should demand a registry of officers fired for misconduct to prevent those who are not well-suited for policing from being re-hired by other departments.

Collective bargaining agreements often protect problematic officers. This should not be the case. Collective bargaining agreements should protect officers without endangering the public.

Prof Holona Ochs

Gadfly found the following article quite . . . illuminating.

What do we know about our police collective bargaining agreement and our disciplinary and misconduct procedures?

From Stephen Rushin, “Police Union Contracts.” Duke Law Journal, March 2017.

Police departments’ internal disciplinary procedures, often established through the
collective bargaining process, can serve as barriers to officer accountability.

Most states permit police officers to bargain collectively over the terms of their employment, including the content of internal disciplinary procedures. This means that police union contracts—largely negotiated outside of public view—shape the
content of disciplinary procedures used by American police departments.

A substantial number of these agreements limit officer interrogations after alleged misconduct, mandate the destruction of disciplinary records, ban civilian oversight, prevent anonymous civilian complaints, indemnify officers in the event of civil suits, and limit the length of internal investigations.

This lack of corrective action in cases of systemic officer misconduct is, in part, a consequence of public-employee labor law.

Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority does not consider an officer’s history of complaints when examining a new complaint against the same officer. The Chicago union contract also delays interrogations of officers involved in alleged wrongdoing and prevents the investigation of most anonymous complaints. Perhaps it is no coincidence that less than 2 percent of all civilian complaints against Chicago police officers result in any sort of disciplinary action. Chicago is hardly alone.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found it challenging to investigate the Cleveland Police Department in part because its collective bargaining contract mandated the removal of disciplinary records from department databases after two years.

These examples bolster the hypothesis that some union contract provisions may impede effective investigations of police misconduct and shield problematic officers from discipline.

This analysis reveals that a substantial number of these contracts unreasonably interfere with or otherwise limit the effectiveness of mechanisms designed to hold police officers accountable for their actions. For example, many of these contracts limit officer interrogations after alleged wrongdoing, mandate the destruction of officer disciplinary records, ban civilian oversight of police misconduct, prevent anonymous civilian complaints, indemnify officers in civil suits, or require arbitration in cases of disciplinary action.

But across many of the nation’s largest cities, supervisors cannot easily respond to external legal pressure by punishing problematic officers or implementing rigorous disciplinary procedures. Instead, many courts have held that internal-investigation and disciplinary procedures are appropriate subjects for collective bargaining under public-employee labor laws. This collective bargaining process happens largely outside of the public view and with minimal input from community stakeholders most at risk of experiencing police misconduct.

Municipalities ought to provide police officers with adequate due process protections  during internal investigations. It is also important for front line police officers to have a voice in the development of internal policies and procedures to reduce the probability of organizational resistance. However, these internal disciplinary protections should not be so burdensome as to thwart legitimate efforts to investigate or punish officers engaged in wrongdoing.

States could require municipalities and police unions to negotiate disciplinary procedures in public hearings rather than behind closed doors. Alternatively, states could require municipalities to establish notice-and-comment procedures, similar to those employed by administrative agencies, before agreeing to a package of disciplinary procedures via the collective bargaining process. Perhaps most radically, states could amend labor laws to remove police disciplinary procedures from the list of appropriate subjects for collective bargaining.

However, it appears that expansive readings of state labor laws by employee-relations boards and courts have opened the door for police unions to negotiate the inclusion of a range of questionable procedures that may “protect incompetent or abusive employees.” Excessively delaying interrogations of officers after alleged misconduct allows officers to coordinate stories in a way that deflects responsibility for wrongful behavior. The destruction of disciplinary records makes it more difficult for supervisors to identify officers engaged in a pattern of misconduct. The disqualification of entire classes of civilian complaints prevents supervisors from even investigating potentially abusive behavior. Limitations on civilian oversight and arbitration clauses rob the public of the opportunity to monitor police behavior.

In the past, participants in this conversation have not fully recognized the ways that police labor and employment law may contribute to questionable internal disciplinary measures. Even when faced with the sting of evidentiary exclusion or the heavy financial burden of civil suits, police union contracts can make it challenging for police chiefs to hold officers accountable for wrongdoing.

Police officers need reasonable procedural safeguards during disciplinary investigations. At the same time, these procedural protections should not go so far as to shield offending officers from accountability. Unfortunately, in many of the nation’s largest cities, it appears that the balance may have tipped too heavily in favor of protecting police officers while handcuffing internal investigations. In many localities across the country, police officers receive more procedural protections than other government employees during disciplinary investigations.

Communities could elect civilians to a commission tasked with the creation of police disciplinary procedures, with recommendations from police management and union leaders. Communities could establish notice-and-comment procedures, similar to those employed by many administrative agencies, to promulgate disciplinary policies. Conversely, states could require communities to establish police disciplinary procedures in the same manner that they establish municipal ordinances—presumably through a public hearing and vote by local elected officials.

Scholars have documented that police unions are a powerful political constituency. Police union support can be pivotal in local and state elections.280 Thus, there is legitimate concern that the collective bargaining process in police departments
“amount[s] to a division of spoils” rather than a thoughtful compromise. By opening up the negotiation process to the public, relevant stakeholders should, theoretically, be able to monitor the actions of municipal officials during the negotiation of police union contracts and prevent the kind of troubling disciplinary trade-offs that have happened in major cities like Chicago.

Some misconduct is an unavoidable part of having a police force.

There is a compelling public policy need for the public to have greater input in
the development of police disciplinary procedures.

Across America’s largest cities, many police officers receive excessive procedural protections during internal disciplinary investigations, effectively immunizing them from the consequences of misconduct.

The public should have more say in the development of police accountability mechanisms. For too long, the law has excluded the public from the development of these procedures. It is time to remove this process from the shadows and make the police more accountable to the communities they serve.

“The council and community bear some responsibility as well”

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The council and community bear some responsibility as well. Quality
of life measures and similar policies that target low income
communities of color are fundamentally racist. The city should
re-evaluate policies that target others in our
community and make them vulnerable.

Prof Holona Ochs

Gadfly, thank you for your ongoing discussion of this topic.

I would like to make a comment on the 5th item on Professor Ochs’ helpful list of recommendations. This item refers to “qualify of life” policing, which is described in the attached info-graphic Quality of life policing as the “policing of a number of normally non-criminal activities such as standing, congregating, sleeping, eating and/or drinking in public spaces, as well as minor offenses such as graffiti, public urination, panhandling, littering, and unlicensed street vending.”

Since I know there are a number of people in our city who believe the Bethlehem police can do no wrong and who see no need for any efforts to reconsider how we address public safety, I thought it would be good to recall Mayor Donchez’s effort in 2016 to institute one such quality of life measure: a panhandling ordinance. Here is the link to some local press coverage on this effort: “Bethlehem City Council reviews anti panhandling ordinance.”

While the proposed ordinance was ultimately withdrawn from consideration, the fact that it was proposed reflects a general failure in city government to consider the disproportionate and draconian impact local policies have on poor and vulnerable citizens in our own community, and a tendency to approach those citizens as though they are a problem that needs to be removed from public sight, and even penalized for making others uncomfortable. You will see in the press coverage that, not surprisingly, the public discussion about the problem with this ordinance focused more on how it would impact local artists, who are deemed acceptable, and good for tourism, even when prompting loitering in public spaces around the wonderful music they play.

As a citizen witnessing this conversation, I was appalled by statements of support for the ordinance from the city and the police chief and the South Side Ambassadors that reflected their general interest in sanitizing the South Side of people who might make parents and tourists feel uncomfortable. Had some wiser voices from outside our city’s government not prevailed in this conversation, the ordinance would likely be in place now.

Efforts to pass such an ordinance demonstrate the propensity of our local government and police department — and presumably many citizens — to criminalize and penalize the behavior of vulnerable populations in order to create public spaces that make other populations feel more comfortable. They also reveal why we need to have a conversation about public safety in this city. Specifically, there is a need to understand why people become homeless, what is empirically effective in helping them and others so easily targeted as “criminals,” and why jailing and penalizing people who pose minimal threats to public safety is neither making us safer nor spending our tax dollars effectively. There are many other problems with quality of life policing, but if we could start with understanding these rather obvious problems, that would be progress.

The problems driving the recent social uprising are deep and systemic. I think there are a lot of citizens in this city who don’t really understand them at all. Thus it is no surprise why some think there is no need for reform. It would be very helpful if the city government could find ways to get us all on the same page and foster an understanding of the empirical evidence and personal anecdotes driving calls for systemic reform. This probably involves having some public forums, but I hope government officials realize it involves a lot more than that.

Sincerely, Breena Holland

See also: Debtors’ Prisons: Life Inside America’s For-Profit Justice System.”

“Transparency and accountability must be structured into the system”

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Transparency and accountability must be structured into the system.

Council has the power and should demand that all data that is not legally
protected personnel data should be publicly available. This should include
researchers who are experts in analyzing and interpreting the data so that
we can actually learn from the data available.

Prof Holona Ochs

For the August 11 Public Safety Committee meeting, we have the following documents online here:

1. Police Department Use of Force Directives (3.1.1)
2. Policing in the City of Bethlehem, 2019
3. A Report on the Use of Force by the Bethlehem Police

Plenty to go through.

These documents, as far as Gadfly knows, are not usually available to the public.

One would think they should be and be the subject of a Public Safety Committee meeting.

Gadfly likes the Prof’s idea of having someone expert in data analysis present when discussions occur.

Followers know that Gadfly has been thinking of other statistical info and reports that Council should have at review times:

  • the police section of the City budget
  • copies of the last two police accreditation reports
  • minority personnel statistics,
  • conduct/misconduct reports and statistics in as granular detail as possible

Gadfly recently noted that the Minnesota state legislature is considering a provision to provide incentives for police officers to live in the city.

What an interesting idea. Gadfly has heard that at one time there was such a requirement for police and perhaps for other city workers as well.

Would put the “community” in community policing.

So Gadfly would be curious to know how many of the 154 (?) police officers live in Bethlehem.

“Police should avoid situations that increase the likelihood of lethal force and should work alongside mental health professionals in de-escalating conflict.”

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Police should avoid situations that increase the likelihood of lethal force and should work alongside mental health professionals in de-escalating conflict.
Prof Holona Ochs

from Curtis Gilbert, “Not Trained to Not Kill: Most states neglect ordering police to learn de-escalation tactics to avoid shootings.” APM Reports, May 5, 2017.

“Did you see him comin’ at me?”
“I seen him comin’ at you.”
min. 3:02
“What he’d do to ya?”
I taz’d him. He just stood there. Busted everything loose,
and he come at me swingin’.”
min. 6:01
“He hit me a couple times, I’m alright, he hit me
a couple times here and here . . . come at me swingin’.
min. 11:28
“I just don’t want her hearing this on the news or anything.”
min. 13:22
“I holstered my pistol, and I got my taser out . . .
and I kept telling him . . . I’m going to taze you . . .
and I drew and I shot him . . . I’m fine.”
min. 14:07
“I’m not second-guessing myself.”
min. 20:25
You know the bad thing about it, Brent? I could’ve fought him.”
 “Don’t second guess yourself. You did what Mickey had to do.”
not captured on this video
(full story at beginning of article)

selections:

Whether White did what he had to do remains a question. What’s certain is that he did what he was trained to do.

During White’s 13 years working for the Early County Sheriff’s Department, according to records kept by the state of Georgia, he’d received more than 600 hours of training on a range of subjects, including use of firearms, “vehicle pullovers,” “active shooter response,” “marijuana investigations,” and even “courtroom demeanor and testimony.”

In fact, on the day White shot Touchtone, he had completed a five-hour training session that included an annual briefing on the use of deadly force.

Yet he’d never received even an hour of instruction in the type of training that might have equipped him to better handle his encounter with Touchtone, who had a history of mental illness.

There are no unassailable, scientific studies showing that de-escalation training leads to fewer police shootings. But anecdotal evidence abounds.

Those who haven’t implemented the training are sending a message that curbing use of force isn’t a high priority, said Frank Zimring, a law professor at University of California-Berkeley who studies police shootings. “De-escalation is going to work only when saving civilian lives becomes an important objective of police administration and training,” he said.

“We never blame individual police officers for actions that they take, because when we look at the training that they receive, they’re simply doing what their training told them,” he said.

Officers need to “practice patience,” he said, adding that it appears White tried to resolve the situation too quickly, especially given that Touchtone was unarmed. “Things don’t have to be resolved within the first 30 seconds …. Let him sing all day. Let him stand outside his car and sing until backup comes.”

It’s not the first time White shot an unarmed man. In 2009, he tried to arrest a man after responding to a family dispute. The man resisted and began fighting White, who shot him, but not fatally.

Police shootings tend to unfold quickly. The shots that killed Touchtone were fired just 35 seconds after White’s arrival. De-escalation training is designed to help officers slow the action down, in order to afford them more than a few seconds in which to make a decision.

Evidence suggests that officers who go through de-escalation training come away with more sympathetic attitudes toward people with mental illness.

De-escalation training is controversial in the policing world.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which calls itself the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police issued a joint statement in early 2016 that read, “We cannot reasonably expect law enforcement officers to walk away from potentially dangerous situations and individuals in the hope that those situations resolve themselves without further harm being done. Reasonable use of force in any given situation must be at the discretion of a fully sworn and trained officer.”

Some view mandated de-escalation training as a criticism of policing itself.

“Nothing is significantly broken in law enforcement right now,” he said. “We are better trained, better selected, better educated, held to more standards, higher accountability, with better policies than ever before in the United States of America’s history. Yet we’re in the toilet right now.”

In reality, an officer is unlikely to shoot anyone ever. But, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence showing that de-escalation training can save lives under the right circumstances.

“Intuitively, we know it will work,” said Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. “But I think for the short term, we’re going to have to be comfortable with anecdotal information.”

A handful of police departments have taken de-escalation to a new level and are honoring dangerous situations handled without bloodshed.

Today, in addition to medals for valor, heroism, bravery, and honor, Philadelphia gives out an official commendation for de-escalation.

Murphy recalled that the man “actually was thanking us for not shooting him. During the car ride back to our district, he was thanking us. He knew his actions were wrong.”

McAdams remembered saying in response, “Well, thank you for not making us shoot you.”

 

“The entire community should have the opportunity to address our own racial biases”

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“Not enough White Americans understand that racism is much more destructive
when it infects an institution like the criminal justice system.”
Michael Reed

The entire community should have the opportunity to address our
own racial biases (this includes the police).
Prof Holona Ochs

from John Blake, “ ‘Am I racist?’ You may not like the answer.” CNN, June 20, 2020.

[Racism is] a system of advantage based on race, scholars say. It’s a collection of stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory behavior. It’s overt and covert. And it operates across an individual, group and societal level.

It’s almost impossible not to be a racist growing up in the US. If you think you’re immune from it, that denial itself is part of how racism perpetuates. . . . “You start off with the assumption that you are, because everybody living in the United States has internalized stereotypes about Black people,” says Mark Naison.

“One of the things I learned very early in my development is that everyone in American society internalized anti-Black attitudes because they are so ingrained in our culture,” he says.

 People can act and think in racist ways without knowing it.

“The term racial bias perpetuates the notion that racism is beyond your control, and that’s often not the case,” says Bell, the psychology professor. “People might not think that they have control over racism, and they can’t ever get rid of it. It’s absolutely within their control.”

It can be fiendishly difficult, though, for people to see racism in themselves, says Bell, who studies how people fail to recognize their own racism.

Some of that is because of what psychologists call “moral licensing and credentialing.” Translation: A White liberal who brags, “I would have voted for Obama a third time if I could,” may be trying to signal that he or she is beyond racism.

Individual racism isn’t as harmful as institutional racism.

People have different ideas about how to get rid of racism. Some say the focus should be on institutional racism — in schools, policing, the workplace — and not on people’s feelings.

Reed says too many White Americans see “racism as psychology” — a naval-gazing definition that focuses on what people feel inside and personal displays of racial hostility, like racial slurs.

Reed says the goal of the civil rights movement was not to make White people better. It was to purge institutions of racism so that Blacks could have equal access to jobs, housing and education.

Not enough White Americans understand that racism is much more destructive when it infects an institution like the criminal justice system, he says.

Black people who come in contact with you will probably know you’re a racist before you do. Blacks can often read White people’s body language when they’re experiencing these racist thoughts, he says. It could be something as simple as speeding up your walk when a Black man approaches on the street or hesitating to open your door when a Black man is ringing the bell. Naison says a majority of Whites practice what he calls “aversive racism,” or engaging in behavior — some of it unconscious — “which lets Black people know they are uncomfortable around them.”

One of the biggest obstacles to fighting racism is despair. There’s a belief that racism will never be eliminated because it always adapts to survive, and humans are too tribal to look past superficial differences in others.

But the modern framework of racism — a racial hierarchy with White on top and Black on bottom — is a relatively recent fabrication. The notion that people with darker skin are inherently inferior was contrived around 500 years ago by Europeans to justify slavery and colonial conquest, scholars say.

History lessons won’t prevent someone from being a racist. But something else can: genuine, sustained personal relationships with people of color.

Instead of “Am I racist?” ask yourself: What am I doing to stop the racism I see in the world?

“Police must acknowledge and apologize for the historical patterns of abuse”

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Police organizations are highly resistant to public “interference”
(Human Rights Watch, 1998)

Police must acknowledge and apologize for the historical patterns of abuse that have roots in the origins of the profession and continue to impact the patterns and practices of the police.
Prof Holona Ochs

The Ochs’ to-do list starts with a bang for your Gadfly.

Something Gadfly never thought about, never knew.

The history of police departments.

Police departments owe their origin to 1) slave patrols and 2) 19th century big city municipal police forces formed to control the “dangerous underclasses” (African American, yes, but Italians and Irish too).

Police departments were born in racism.

Gadfly tried to imagine Chief Diluzio acknowledging and apologizing for the history of police abuse.

Stop icon

But maybe, just maybe that was unfair on Gadfly’s part. For every time the Chief has spoken he has acknowledged the police are human, have bias like everybody else, make mistakes.

What does such acknowledgment and apology look like?

Maybe here’s an example. Wellesley, Massachusetts, Chief Terence Cunningham, President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, in 2016.

from Tom Jackman, “U.S. police chiefs group apologizes for ‘historical mistreatment’
of minorities.” Washington Post, October 17, 2016.

Cunningham’s comments are an acknowledgement of police departments’ past role in exacerbating tensions and a way to move forward and improve community relations nationwide.

“Events over the past several years,” Cunningham said, “have caused many to question the actions of our officers and has tragically undermined the trust that the public must and should have in their police departments…The history of the law enforcement profession is replete with examples of bravery, self-sacrifice, and service to the community. At its core, policing is a noble profession.”

But Cunningham added, “At the same time, it is also clear that the history of policing has also had darker periods.” He cited laws enacted by state and federal governments which “have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks…While this is no longer the case, this dark side of our shared history has created a multigenerational — almost inherited — mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies.”

Cunningham continued, “While we obviously cannot change the past, it is clear that we must change the future…For our part, the first step is for law enforcement and the IACP to acknowledge and apologize for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.”

He concluded, “It is my hope that, by working together, we can break this historic cycle of mistrust and build a better and safer future for us all.”

Robinson said, “and a very significant acknowledgement of what much of America has known for some time about the historical relationship between police and communities of color. The fact someone high in the law enforcement community has said this is significant and I applaud it because it is long overdue. And I think it’s a necessary first step to them trying to change these relationships.”

After his comments, Cunningham told The Post in an e-mail that, “We have 16,000 police chiefs and law enforcement officials gathered here in San Diego and it is an important message to spread. Communities and law enforcement need to begin a healing process and this is a bridge to begin that dialogue. If we are brave enough to collectively deliver this message, we will build a better and safer future for our communities and our law enforcement officers. Too many lives have been lost already, and this must end. It is my hope that many other law enforcement executives will deliver this same message to their local communities, particularly those segments of their communities that lack trust and feel disenfranchised.”

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton welcomed the apology by Cunningham, but also said he “wants his words backed by action.” Sharpton said in a statement he hoped that Cunningham would “urge officers around the United States to back his words up with action and legislation to protect communities of color from the onslaught of police misconduct that has disturbed the country…words are important but action is integral.”

Here’s a sober bottom line: “The persistence of racially biased policing means that unless American policing reckons with its racist roots, it is likely to keep repeating mistakes of the past. This will hinder police from fully protecting and serving the entire public.

You must know your history.

Your thoughts?

A “to-do” list from Prof Ochs

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We have introduced you to Lehigh University professor Holona Ochs, whose team has done a study of Lehigh Valley Police Departments (124 interviews) entitled “Democratic Policing: Bias Reduction and Police-Public Interactions.” (See Ochs, Holona under Topics on the right-hand side-bar.)

Completion and publication of the report on the study were delayed when school activities were interrupted by the pandemic, but we hope to have the report later in the fall.

The Reynolds/Crampsie Smith resolution that is the basis for the August 11 Public Safety Committee meeting was amended at the July 7 City Council meeting specifically to include this research on local policing: ““The Administration should work with and incorporate recommendations by research experts including Lehigh University’s Core Grant team who recently conducted a large research project on policing in the Lehigh Valley.”

Happy serendipity! Gadfly’s mouth waters at the thought of this report. How fortunate to have this window on local policing at the precise time the whole country is examining the way it does Public Safety.

In preparation for that July 7 meeting at which the Reynolds/Crampsie Smith resolution passed, Ochs circulated the following list of action items.

Gadfly has been doing a crash course with you in preparation for the August 11 meeting. We’ll get more out of that meeting if we’ve done some thinking beforehand.

Therefore, take a look now at the Ochs’ list, and then we’ll take each point one at a time to see what we can see, to think what we can think.

  • Police must acknowledge and apologize for the historical patterns of abuse that have roots in the origins of the profession and continue to impact the patterns and practices of the police.
  • The entire community should have the opportunity to address our own racial biases (this includes the police).
  • Police should avoid situations that increase the likelihood of lethal force and should work alongside mental health professionals in de-escalating conflict.
  • Transparency and accountability must be structured into the system.
  • The council and community bear some responsibility as well. Quality of life measures and similar policies that target low income communities of color are fundamentally racist. The city should re-evaluate policies that target others in our community and make them vulnerable.
  • Officer pay should reflect the level of expertise and difficulty of the task and importance of the purpose. Existing incentive structures should be re-examined.
  • Recruitment and retention standards need to be evaluated and revised to prevent the infiltration of those with extremist/hateful/violent views.
  • Scholars have noted that the doctrine of qualified immunity is not supported by the empirical evidence.
  • We, as a community, need to imagine leadership differently.

Prof Ochs on the police use of force

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Democratic policing is paradoxical in that force is used to maintain peace. Therefore
it
is highly problematic if the lives at hand are not equally valued.

Many studies over the years have demonstrated that the protection provided
by the police is not applied equally across all communities.

Ample research suggests that police use of force is more likely when police
encounter persons with mental health issues or individuals  who are
members of racial and ethnic minority groups.

The police use of force can be immoral if it is inequitable.

We are introducing you to Lehigh Prof Holona Ochs whose team has just completed 124 interviews on the subject of policing in the Lehigh Valley and whose report we look forward to in the fall. Consideration of this research is part of the Community Engagement Initiative passed by City Council at its July 7 meeting.

selections from
Holona Ochs Police Use of Force (2020)

The President’s Task Force on 21st ­Century Policing, appointed in 2014 by President Barack Obama to study policing, was a response to increased public anger
and media scrutiny concerning the use of force by law enforcement, especially in
interactions with African American individuals and communities.

As the Task Force noted, however, the use of force by the police is not in itself misconduct. In fact, the use of force, even lethal force, may be both legally and ethically justified in the protection of the public.

Understanding the distinction between moral responsibility and culpability in a particular incidence of lethal force is determined by the policy on the use of force and the validity of the rationale for using force. For example, an officer may be morally responsible for the use of force but not to blame based on the physical threat a suspect posed. The officer’s use of force in the performance of law enforcement duties may also be found to be legally justified if enacted in accordance with policy.

However, the validity of the rationale and the estimation of threat are subject to a considerable degree of interpretation. Democratic policing is paradoxical in that force is used to maintain peace. Therefore it is highly problematic if the lives at hand are not equally valued.

Many studies over the years have demonstrated that the protection provided by
the police is not applied equally across all communities. A 2015 report by Amnesty
International demonstrates the increasing rate of the use of force by police officers
in the United States and highlights a pattern of racial disparities in deadly force
exercised by the police.

Given moral and legal concerns about the use of force by law enforcement, police
departments follow a use of force continuum—policies that guide officers in the
use of force. Officer training conditions officers to estimate and respond with a level
of force deemed appropriate in a given circumstance based on an escalating series
of actions. These strategies range from the mere presence of an officer exerting
authority by verbal command to deadly force.

Organized movements aimed at restraining the police use of force argue that
physical force is too often used and more likely to be wielded against nonwhites.
They identify several policies that have the potential to constrain the use of force
and reduce harm, and they outline what are referenced as “meaningful protections
against police violence.” They contend that police departments that are more restrictive of the use of force have fewer incidents of police violence and that this also results in fewer incidents of violence toward the police.

When considering the appropriateness of force and the validity of threat assessments, mental health and race are principal factors. If some segments of the population are disproportionately subjected to police surveillance and the use of force, the moral support for using force to protect citizens is weakened. Ample research suggests that police use of force is more likely when police encounter persons with mental health issues or individuals who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups

A 2015 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center argues that, partly as a result
of cuts to the mental health treatment hospital system dating back to the 1980s, 1
out of every 10 law enforcement responses address a person in mental health crisis, and one-fourth of the fatal encounters with police end the life of a person with mental illness (Fuller at al., 2015). Research suggests that police officers are now the most likely to deal with mental health emergencies and are the main sources of referral to treatment. In fact, evidence suggests that people with mental health issues face a risk six times greater than the general public of deadly force at the hands of police.

Furthermore, “get tough” policies and “hot spots” policing contribute to officer misconduct and focus police efforts on communities of color, particularly low income communities.

Many observers believe, however, that the political incorporation of black people in local politics reduces the frequency and severity of use-of-force incidents, reduces policing costs, mitigates legal risks, and enhances the legitimacy of law enforcement.

The differential crime hypothesis claims that blacks are subject to the law more
often because they are more criminal. This speculation regarding the likelihood of
criminal behavior mistakes the history of oppression in the United States with the
character of its subjects.

The community violence thesis is another way of understanding how police–
public interactions shape the relative risk of lethal force. Poverty isolation and racial
segregation are structural inequalities with complex implications for people living
in such communities. Some argue that police violence is a response to higher rates
of violence in some communities. Certainly, those communities deserve police protection as much as any other in a democratic society. At the same time, communities that are densely populated, that lack economic and educational opportunities, and where incidents of domestic violence are often more commonly reported to the police represent threats to the community, as well as presenting some of the most difficult challenges for police work.

Historically, movements aimed at addressing the immorality of the disproportionate execution of deadly force (such as Black Lives Matter) have been met with considerable resistance from law enforcement agencies as well as from sectors of the public whose primary sympathies lie with the police.

We grant the state the authority to exercise the legitimate use of violence to protect citizens and to maintain social order. As such, the legitimate use of force by the state is morally justified. Police officers and other law enforcement officials thereby morally use force in the name of the state when they are protecting citizens. However, the police use of force can be immoral if it is inequitable. The evidence suggests that may be the case in the United States, inspiring calls for reforms of policing.

Body cameras alone will not address biased patterns in deadly force.

The implication is that bias—perhaps often implicit bias—exists in policing and that training must be implemented to reduce such bias and restore equity. The implementation of the training has been associated with a decline in police use of force. 

Likewise, crisis intervention training (CIT) is one measure to address the criminalization of people with mental health issues and to direct these people to resources for help rather than sending them to jail.

Our good luck

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Just thinking how lucky we are in Bethlehem.

In this time of national conversation about the people/police relationships, we have two wonderful local resources on which to draw (notice how deftly Gadfly avoided ending with a preposition?).

Prof Holona Ochs at Lehigh whose team has conducted 124 local interviews as part of a research project on police/community relationships and whose report should be out in the fall.

The International Institute for Restorative Practices, 531 Main St., who has conducted police/community summits in Detroit.

Wow! A lot of practical experience and know-how to aid us as we feel our way through tricky conversations ahead.

Let’s meet Prof Holona Ochs

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Holona Ochs has been mentioned prominently in our recent discussions about the police department as part of the national conversation on systemic racism precipitated by the murder of George Floyd.

Councilwoman Negron distributed information about her research prior to the July 7 Council meeting that took up the Reynolds/Crampsie Smith resolution on the Community Engagement Initiative, Anna Smith and Al Wurth mentioned her favorably in public comments relative to the resolution, and Councilman Reynolds reported at the July 7 Council meeting that, in fact, he spent an hour and a half in discussion with her.

The Reynolds/Crampsie Smith resolution was amended to recommend consideration of her research: “The Administration should work with and incorporate recommendations by research experts including Lehigh University’s Core Grant team who recently conducted a large research project on policing in the Lehigh Valley.”

Looks like we’re going to hear more from Prof Ochs.Ochs

Time to meet her.

Prof Holona Ochs is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Lehigh University and heads the department’s graduate program.

Prof Ochs describes her research on democratic policing in the United States:

I am also working on a constellation of projects on democratic policing in the US. The first study is a time series analysis of the police use of lethal force. This project explores the impact of mental healthcare investments across states on deadly encounters with the police and the potential for Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to make policing safer for the police and the public. The second study examines the aggregate patterns of bias in the execution of lethal force across various demographic groups and geographical regions. This project includes case studies to further identify factors that may reduce the potential for bias the police use of force. The third research project on policing is an interdisciplinary study of the perspectives on policing that the police and various communities have in order to identify potential disjunctures. We expect that differences in the understandings of the challenges and complexities of policing and in expectations of the police may serve as opportunities to improve police-public relations.

The specific work that brings Prof Ochs to the forefront of our attention at this time is a study of local policing: “Democratic Policing: Bias Reduction and Police-Public Interactions.” This study was just coming to a conclusion when the pandemic suspended activity at Lehigh in March, and now we look forward to a final report on the 124 interviews conducted, with a bit o’luck, in the fall.

from Sara K. Satullo, “How Lehigh Valley cops could help change U.S. policing for the better.” lehighvalleylive.com., January 2, 2019.

A team of Lehigh University researchers are digging into public perceptions of law enforcement in the Lehigh Valley and looking into ways to reduce biases on all sides.

The research is still in its early stages with the team gathering data through surveys and focus groups with a wide swath of Lehigh Valley residents, including police officers, community groups, Lehigh students and folks who have served time in jail.

The idea for the project — Democratic Policing: Bias Reduction and Police-Public Interactions — sprung out of informal conversations about bias amongst Lehigh faculty in the psychology, criminal justice and political science departments.

“The real motivation here is to learn about those institutional factors that we can affect that will make policing safer for the police and the public,” explained Holona Ochs, Lehigh associate professor and graduate director in the political science department, who has been studying policing since 2009.

While the use of force by police in the Lehigh Valley is pretty rare, researchers think the region’s unique geography and demographics may result in real life applications across the country.

The team wants to know how participants view their community’s relationship with police and what they think an officer’s job actually is. And they want to hear from officers about the challenges of modern policing.

“We’re trying to understand where are people’s perspectives aligned and where are they misaligned,” said Dominic Packer, associate professor of psychology and associate dean of research and graduate programs in Lehigh’s College of Arts and Sciences. “They are really exploratory focus groups.”

Adjunct Lehigh professor and recently retired Bethlehem police Sgt. Wade Haubert thinks inherent bias is a fascinating research topic with real world applications.

“Start off acknowledging what we all know: every single person in this country has grown up in some environment where they ultimately have bias,” Haubert said. “It doesn’t mean that it is bad, that you are a bigot. Let’s just all acknowledge, we have some stereotypes. Let’s identify through a study why those things might occur and we can look at what we can do to potentially recognize that and factor that in as a conscious factor in how we make decisions.”

Informal conversations about police tactics and procedures in the wake of high-profile police shootings started forming the questions that are now the basis of the research, Haubert said. His own concerns about the direction of policing attracted him to the project.

“I was very frustrated with the way the profession of policing has changed over the last 20 years,” Haubert said. “…When I first got hired, community policing was a big thing and the Bethlehem Police Department was one of the poster children for good community policing.”

This was lost nationally in the wake of 9/11.

“We lost our ability to put the citizens first and have the ability to communicate with them and understand that most people support us,” Haubert said.

“Different communities have different expectations of the police and relate to the police in different ways and it affects the complexity of policing and whether people think the police are doing a good job,” Ochs said.

But as the region changes demographically those differences could potentially be problematic if a “past practice of acceptable policing behavior is applied to a diverse community,” Haubert said.

If a brown skinned family moves into a largely white and homogeneous borough, the police might be called as they are moving in, Haubert said. Or if you’re driving a certain type of car while gawking at mansions in Upper Saucon Township you may get stopped.

Researchers hope these focus groups can spur wider conversations among communities with the police, so residents can gain a better understanding of ins and outs of policing and how to communicate with police.

“The bigger goal is to bring different communities together with the police and talk about the challenges and complexities of policing and how different communities can better relate and interact using the police as intermediaries,” Ochs said.

“If we can build this research further we’d like to create Center of the Study of Democratic Policing — that center would be an online forum and a public space where we would organize conversations about maintaining peaceful relations without the use of force,” Ochs said.

If police departments are interested in specialized training or resources, the center could offer that as well, she said.

We’ll devote two or three more posts to getting to know Prof Ochs’ work.

Councilwoman Negron: “I’m not the only one who is appalled”

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original resolution
“Resolution urging the creation of a Community Engagement Initiative
in the City of Bethlehem”

Councilwoman Negron’s impatience did have effect.

I’m not the only one who is appalled by [the 2nd and 3rd paragraph]. We want to try to make the Administration accountable and push an agenda that the community wants. [Paragraphs 2 and 3] must go

Councilman Reynolds made two amendments to the resolution.

I thank you Councilman Reynolds, that’s very honorable. . . . You are saying to all the people . . . that they are not invisible.

Amended resolution:

Adding this line (might not be exact wording): “The Administration should work with and incorporate recommendations by research experts including Lehigh University’s Core Grant team who recently conducted a large research project on policing in the Lehigh Valley.”

NOW THEREFORE BE IT:RESOLVED, that the City Council of the City of Bethlehem urges the Mayor and his Administration to collaborate with the City of Bethlehem Police Department to create a public space and forum for the long-term discussion of issues surrounding systemic racism, discrimination, race-based inequities, social justice, mental health, addiction, poverty eradication, inclusionary housing, education, and fair policing practices(“Community Engagement Initiative”). The Community Engagement Initiative might include and/or interface with any individuals or entities that the Mayor and his Administration think appropriate such as citizens, human service organizations, the medical community, school leaders, social justice organizations, police officers,and Police Department leaders. The Administration should work with and incorporate recommendations by research experts including Lehigh University’s Core Grant team who recently conducted a large research project on policing in the Lehigh Valley.

Amended resolution:

Deleting two paragraphs

WHEREAS, following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, and during a period of justified outrage and anger,people across the nation and around the world have engaged in massive and sustained protests against persistent patterns of racial injustice and inequity in the United States and other countries. In the United States, a primary focus of these protests hasbeen on policing practices affecting Black, Latinx, and other minority communities;

WHEREAS, Bethlehem City Council thanks our Police Department and its officers for facilitating and protecting peaceful protests and we recognize our Police Department’ successful efforts in protecting public safety and property while at the same time protecting the community’s vital right of free expression. Our community has come together to grieve, talk, mobilize, and peacefully protest racial injustice in cooperation with our Police Department and not as adversaries against our police;

WHEREAS, Bethlehem City Council commends the Mayor and our Police Department for being the first City in the Lehigh Valley to release its unredacted police use of force policy and further recognizes that our Police Department proactively incorporated many of the 8 Can’t Wait police use of force directives into their operations many years prior to George Floyd’s murder, as part of the Police Department’s accreditation process,and further recognizes that the Police Department has been receptive and responsive in recently making additional changes to strengthen the 8 Can’t Wait use of force directives in Bethlehem. Moreover, we recognize our Police Department’s current community engagement efforts. We also recognize the need for further re-evaluation and review of our Department’s use of force policy to achieve compliance with all federal and state guidelines, current case law and the best standards and practices available in alignment with 8 Can’t Wait;

WHEREAS,Bethlehem City Council believes we must and can do better as a city to build stronger bridges and trust between our Police Department and our community,and that working together, we can avail ourselves of this opportunity to work collaboratively and self-reflectively to improve the relationship between our Police Department and our diverse ethnic and racial communities,that together,make up the City we all love;

The resolution, as amended, passed 7-0.

Gadfly will introduce you in some depth to the research of Prof Ochs and the team at Lehigh University in upcoming posts.

“We have an opportunity to do something truly momentous”

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Anna Smith is a Southside resident, full-time parent, and community activist with a background in community development and education.

To: City Council

Thank you for the opportunity to address Council. As a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem, I’ve been proud to see our community stand up through marches, protests, letters, and phone calls against institutionalized racism which permeates both our immediate community and our society as a whole. I’m pleased to see Council taking a stand and working on these issues, but as you move forward, I’d like to offer a few items for consideration:

Community engagement is only a part of the solution to improving policing in the City of Bethlehem. We need to commit to simultaneously evaluating and establishing policies on citizen oversight; evaluate and develop action plans for improving department demographics, recruitment, and outreach; research and implement alternatives to policing for dealing with individuals in mental health crisis (to avoid repeatedly tasering and incarcerating individuals like my former neighbor); and finally, through community engagement, discussion, and training, address the long history of institutionalized racism and implicit bias that has led to the current state of affairs in our country as a whole.

Let’s invite local experts on policing to provide guidance and feedback on potential policies. Professor Holona Ochs from Lehigh University has dedicated much of her career to researching effective community strategies for working with police departments. I don’t know her personally, but I know that we have a scholar of community participation in policing and its intersection with race in our midst. Let’s base our approaches on evidence supported by research by inviting her to the planning table.

As far as community engagement goes, I’ve participated in a lot of community engagement initiatives in the past, as a participant, facilitator, planner, door-knocker, funder…etc. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and I know that saying “Community Engagement” is not sufficient to ensure that the community is truly engaged in a conversation. I appreciate the sentiment behind the proposed resolution, but I think we need to do more, and demand more, before we set the stage for a mediocre initiative with all the usual suspects (and up until a few months ago, I would have been one of them). A few ideas to consider:

Engage a single, paid person to lead this initiative. As someone who has worked in the world of underpaid, overworked community folks for my entire career, I know that you need a single individual dedicated to a project as one of their primary responsibilities for something like this to TRULY work. And yes, this is possible, and worth it—I’m happy to suggest a few places that this money could come from. And this person NEEDS to speak Spanish.

The Administration should NOT be in the position of deciding who participates in this initiative. With all due respect to the Administration, they do NOT have the contacts, trust, nor awareness of our communities of Color and other marginalized groups in the City to be able to create an effective structure to truly engage the broader community in effective discussions. I know this because:

In the three years that I have been a member of the Bethlehem Human Relations Commission (the entity responsible for investigating instances of discrimination in the City), they have appointed ONLY White members—repeatedly. We have one member who identifies as Latino, and no Black, Asian-American, indigenous, or immigrant members. A reminder that the City of Bethlehem is currently:

28.6% Latino (of any race)

59.4% White

6.5% Black

2.9% Asian

2.6% mixed race

When establishing the new Community Engagement Initiative that is scheduled to meet next week, the ONLY Latino person that they invited to represent the Latino community was my husband—a White-passing recent immigrant from South America—when 20% of the City of Bethlehem is specifically Puerto Rican. If you don’t see the problem with that, then you should be educating yourself on Hispanic/Latino heritage and culture before you try to lead an engagement initiative within the Latino community

Not only should the Administration not be in the position of leading the initiative, but organizations shouldn’t be the primary focus, either. As a former representative of an organization, I can tell you stories of negative interactions with Police in the City of Bethlehem, but wouldn’t you rather hear from the individuals who know what it’s like to have obscenities screamed at you in a language you don’t understand by a police officer (an incident I witnessed)? Don’t you want to hear directly from the homeless individual who was tracked down and searched by Lehigh and Bethlehem Police and forced to sign a document saying he would never set foot on Lehigh’s campus ever again, for the simple “crime” of visiting campus in search of a psychology professor who could give him feedback on a peer mentoring proposal for individuals with traumatic brain injuries? Don’t you want to hear from him, a peer mentor for homeless individuals, about potential solutions for policing? Yes, this is hard—it requires a lot more time and effort than reaching out to the director of a non-profit and asking them to attend a meeting. But I’ve learned through experience that if you do the hard work to build trust and relationships, you can create effective community engagement—and the end result is always worth it.

I’m here because I believe that we are at an important moment in our community’s history, and we have an opportunity to do something truly momentous. But unless we focus on doing it the right way—by relying on experts in our community to provide advice, supporting community members with deep neighborhood ties to lead the charge, and taking the time to build relationships not with other organizations or the usual suspects, but with the very folks that are marginalized—then we are doomed to another series of community meetings where the same folks talk, the same folks listen, and nothing changes. It takes courage to yield power to folks that might come up with ideas and solutions that you don’t like, or that might challenge you and your place in the power structure. As a White woman working in a community where the majority of my program participants didn’t look like me, I had to talk myself down frequently from reacting defensively to folks sharing their truths. But the heart of the matter is, for those of you who are White and middle class sitting at that table—this isn’t about you, and it isn’t about me, either. But we are in the place to use our privilege to take real, serious, progressive, boundary-pushing action, and I am confident that this Council is capable of doing it. Please think seriously about amending your resolution to call for more specific, concrete action. If I can be of any assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out. Thank you.

Anna Smith

This was a phone comment at the July 7 City Council meeting. Gadfly finds much wisdom here.