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J. Allen Case Statement

NHC 2016 Working Group
Challenging the Exclusive Past: Relevancy, Inclusion, and Diversity
J. Allen Case Statement

I cannot remember at what age, but I was certainly taught by my mother, father, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and fictive kin how to interact with police officers. Whether it was through formal instructions, anecdote, or experience I was indoctrinated into the disempowered role my color assigned me to in the world of institutional racism. This lesson would extend into education, employment, and social interactions: my public facing self as an actor in American society.

The historic, pernicious, and prevailing nature of American racism infects our homes, playgrounds, streets, places of employment, and of course our national and political discourses. Law enforcement has always been Ground Zero for overt forms of institutional racism and the law is the fountainhead from which racism was and is institutionalized. Whether it be the Fugitive Slave Acts, Jim Crow laws, Anti-Drug Abuse Acts, Stop & Frisk “policies” or slave patrols, Night Watchers, “Bull” Connor, Daryl Gates, and now Betty Shelby, racism, both institutional and personal, all too often converges in the execution of a person of color by law enforcement seemingly followed by the de jure exoneration of the killer. This has the effect of telling law enforcement that killing even an innocent person of color is a presumed and necessary casualty of whatever War, on drugs, gangs, broken windows, fugitive freedom-seekers, or Civil Rights advocates, the U.S. government has decided to fight. It tells people of color that their lives do not matter in the face of the social, political and personal perceptions of “mainstream” society.

I find that one of the defining issues of our times are received truths that prescribe the roles that “mainstream” America, law enforcement and people of color confine themselves to when they interact. Second is the fear of releasing, retiring and revising those received truths that negatively impact living in the war torn ruins of the demonstrated failures of our nation’s past. A third defining issue is the impact that media – TV, print, and online -- have on how law enforcement and people of color perceive one another. Lastly, the escalation of casual racism and political fear mongering into the criminalization of and a lack of empathy for people of color. While many people believe that institutional racism is a persistent problem, it is the individual acts of racism disguised as paranoia, policing and patriotism in the name of our institutions, which in my contention, are fueled by the acceptance of casual racism.

In 2017 the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, hopefully with support of the NEH, will convene the two groups on the frontlines, law enforcement professionals and young people of color, for a program called, Black & Blue Together: Color, Perceptions, and Policing. This program hopes to question the received and demonstrated truths of policing, media, and perceptions of self and others.

Black & Blue Together is a humanities discussion program for law enforcement professionals and middle/high school students of color that encourages both groups to better understand the lived experiences of youth and police in communities of color. Through facilitated discussions of fiction, poetry, drama, art, and nonfiction that illuminate issues central to living and policing in communities of color, Black & Blue Together promotes empathy and understanding in hopes of providing police officers and young people with an opportunity to reflect on their lives, perceptions, actions, and Page 3 relationships through the lens of the humanities. This can have a significant effect on the way young people and law enforcement professionals in communities of color understand, act and react towards each other. This program is being developed by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities with Dr. Cheryl Ann Kennedy, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Rutgers University New Jersey Medical School in Newark, and Dr. Helen D. Blank, ethicist at the Healthcare Foundation Center for Humanism and Medicine at Rutgers NJ Medical School. Both Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Blank have participated in extensive discussion sessions with police officers and young people.

NJCH will pilot Black & Blue Together in three cities -- urban, agricultural, and postindustrial -- in New Jersey for a series of five discussion sessions in each location. These cities will allow this program to reach under-engaged communities of color that are economically, geographically, and demographically diverse. The discussion sessions will address stereotypes, representations, historical precedents, current events, and public policy through a variety of accessible and engaging texts and media. The aim of these discussions is to better equip participants to reflect upon their perceptions, interactions, and actions.

NJCH has initially chosen Newark, New Jersey as the first city to hold Black & Blue Together because of its entrenched and pervasive police misconduct and public distrust. In March 2016 the U.S. Department of Justice and Newark announced a settlement that would correct the Newark police department’s excessive use of force, as well as what the federal government described as illegal and discriminatory policing practices, by the city’s police department. NJCH will develop a similar series for the New Jersey cities of Bridgeton, a southern New Jersey agricultural city that is 43% Mexican American and Page 4 35% African American, and Paterson, a post-industrial city in northern New Jersey that has 52 ethnic communities, including the second largest Muslim community of any city in the United States.

NJCH partnerships with public libraries, community non-profits, schools, and city governments in Newark, Bridgeton and Paterson as well as those with the Rutgers University NJ Medical School’s Psychology department and its Healthcare Foundation Center for Humanism and Medicine will allow the program to reach local law enforcement officers as well as middle and high school students to engage in these conversations.

Two humanities scholars will receive training in moderating difficult conversations from Adam Davis, Executive Director at Oregon Humanities, who specializes in this work. They will also audit sessions of Black & Blue Together in Newark. Paterson and Bridgeton will each hold five sessions beginning in September 2017 and continuing until January 2018. The Black & Blue Together seminar will serve as a pilot for further community conversation programs across New Jersey to engage audiences in meaningful dialogue about the ways perceptions influence our lives as citizens of New Jersey, the United States, and the world.

All Americans need to examine and decide what type of world they are defending and fighting for along with the proper strategies and tactics used to reach their goals. As long as casual racism remains unindicted and the negative perceptions it instills persist our society will be defined and destroyed by its historic and pernicious discrimination, intolerance, and violence.