As an Asian-American, I admit that I often feel distanced from the recent events arising between the black community and the police. However, I’m becoming increasingly aware that these issues of race, policing, and discrimination should be a priority for me too. As a Christian, I’m called to seek justice, to be a peacemaker, to love my neighbor – and I know part of that calling is identifying with and advocating alongside my black friends and neighbors in these troubling times.
Although I don’t always know what my role looks like, attending last month’s panel on race and policing reminded me that it starts with compassion – to listen to and understand the stories of those who are hurting.
The panel, sponsored by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy at BC Law, was moderated by Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone and featured: William Brooks, chief of the Norwood Police Department and president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association; Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU; and Natashia Tidwell, counsel at Collora LLP and a former Cambridge police officer and assistant US Attorney.
The topics raised during the panel discussion ranged from institutional racism in our nation’s agencies, to the disconnect between our police forces and the communities they serve. Two main areas of discussion stuck out to me.
First, I was reminded that policing is only one aspect of institutional racism. As Rahsaan Hall pointed out during the event, today’s police practices stem largely from America’s history of slavery. Racism is socially ingrained in our culture, and discriminatory police practices are often the result of officers’ lack of appreciation for communities and their history. This lack of empathy has also been manifested through the “All Lives Matter Movement,” a response to the “Black Lives Matter” movement that represents the view that there is no need to place particular emphasis on the value of black individuals over those of other racial backgrounds. As Natashia Tidwell explained, there is a misunderstanding about the meaning of “Black Lives Matter”; it is needed because, historically, black lives have not mattered, and non-black individuals need to learn to better relate to and empathize with the black community.
Second, I learned that another aspect of the problem is that police officers are asked to do too much, requiring them to address a wide spectrum of needs, including substance abuse, mental illness, and other matters for which they are just beginning to receive training. The panelists agreed that more resources need to be poured into training police officers on these issues.
While the panel discussion left me wondering what further change looks like in more practical and specific terms, it was uplifting to hear that steps are being taken to break down institutional racism in our nation. The panelists pointed out that though there is much work to be done, “Black Lives Matter” already has had an impact. Today, significantly more attention is paid to racial bias training and other anti-discrimination initiatives in police departments as a result of the movement. On a personal level, I’m learning that I also need to become more aware of my biases, empathizing and relating with those who are different from me, especially when they experience oppression and injustice. I know that if I were in their position, I would want that same support and solidarity.
Venus Chui is a 2L at BC Law and co-president of the Christian Legal Society. Feel free to contact her with questions about her experience, BC Law, or law school in general. Comment here or send her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.