We recently opened up Ponder for beta testing which was an exciting step forward. While we continue to build out features, we’re adding testers into the mix to provide feedback on the product. Most recently, we’ve added email notifications to help streamline the onboard process and let you know when someone’s left you a message. Currently, we’re working on the ability to add images to a Ponder post. This should get pushed live in the next few days.
After that, we’re turning our attention to adding publishing functionality in Ponder! Currently, the Ponder experience is private—only you and those invited to your journal can see what you’re posting. But half the fun of the internet is sharing stuff publicly with the world. So we’re exploring ways to allow publishing of Ponder journals—this would be optional, so folks who want to stay private can do so. We’re excited to enter into this phase of our work and think it will open up more interest in the app.
Other than Ponder, it’s no surprise that I’ve been thinking a lot about coronavirus. Across the globe, we’ve seen the rates of those diagnosed with the virus decrease, resulting in many states and cities “reopening” their businesses. Unfortunately, as a direct result of these reopenings, we’re now in a second wave of the coronavirus, with the number of cases spiking again. I certainly feel resigned to weather the coronavirus storm, but this has been a difficult experience. So much novelty in how we live our lives, many restrictions in day-to-day life for public health reasons, and no end to the virus in sight. I’m hanging in there, and hope you are, too.
For today’s newsletter, I’d like to focus on another hot topic: racism. It’s hard to not think about racism lately, especially with the police brutality against Black and Brown people and related, ongoing, civil rights protests in the U.S. I decided to take a deeper look at policing in the U.S. through both racial and systems lenses. What I discovered was quite interesting and led me to a very exciting local experiment for change here in Oakland.
I’ll take a look at:
- the institutionalized, collective blindspot of racism in our policing (+legal and government) systems
- an exciting new experiment in Oakland to replace policing in our local school district with social workers and restorative justice coordinators
- offsetting the challenges of changing major societal systems by taking a perspective of collective growth
If any of this resonates, please let me know. I think there are important conversations to be had around racism and more generally about approaching societal growth from a more collective mindset.
🌳 A systemic perspective on racism in the U.S.
In the U.S., policing and racism have a long-standing relationship, largely due to slavery. During the earliest days of colonizing the land we now call the United States of America, policing began in the form of “slave patrol”. Over time, slave patrols evolved into modern day police departments.
To buttress slave patrols, many colonies employed statutes and laws legalizing slavery. These laws were written and upheld by our American forefathers. Early U.S. slavery laws later gave way to Jim Crow laws—enforceable racial segregation—which in turn gave way to contemporary laws supporting the War on Drugs. Each set of laws a tool and part of the systemic oppression of Black and Brown people.
This is the birth of the U.S.’s police, legal, and governance systems, with deep, intertwined roots with slavery. My intent here is not to be reductive, surely our police, laws, and government are more than a delivery system for racism. But given the cultural moment, I’m curious about exploring the racial perspective of these important pillars of American society.
Much has changed since the 1600s in how we police, the laws in place, and those in government leadership. But if you look at the history of racial injustice against Black and Brown Americans, and the corresponding civil rights movements, there’s an obvious pattern of build up and release of racial tension. But never any real resolution. While the expression of this systemic racism has changed, the systems, their roots, remain intact.
Systemic racism is insidious, it has an ability to sneak its way into our cultural norms and disguise itself to blend in with its surroundings. Racism becomes integrated, inseparable with culture itself. Ultimately, its a collective blindspot. However, more and more of us are starting to see the blindspot. Every senseless and racist act of police violence results in increased awareness of the blindspot. Many of us have been aware of it for quite some time, particularly Black and Brown Americans who have endured racist acts, including police violence, personally, in their communities.
From the perspective of racism being a collective blindspot, we can interpret the demands for change—the protests, marches, rallies, conversations, and arguments—as evidence that our awareness of this societal problem is growing. We’re facing institutionalized racial injustice, yet again. This time around, there appears to be an increased attention on the systems, the roots, of racial injustice.
🌷 Experiments to defund the police are springing up across the country
There’s currently a strong cultural narrative around defunding the police, an intentional dismantling of the current policing system. It’s a progressive action that would pull the police system out by the roots, and grow another one in its place. Some cities, like Minneapolis, MN where George Floyd was murdered, have decided to defund their city-wide police department. Other cities, like my own Oakland, CA, are making moves to defund their school police departments. While the details are still being figured out, a theme is emerging: a move away from policing, and towards holistic public safety.
This past Wednesday, the Oakland School Board unanimously voted to adopt the “George Floyd Resolution to Eliminate the Oakland Schools Police”; the result of ongoing advocacy effort by parents and civil rights groups for over five years now. The Resolution requires the Oakland School District to release a plan to completely dissolve the school’s police department by December, 31, 2020. The department has a $4 million budget with 10 sworn officers and over 50 security officers. The city has hired Georgetown Law’s Innovative Policing Project to advise them on approaches to student safety without a dedicated police department.
Much is left unknown explaining how the Oakland School District will approach defunding their police department until a report is produced in December. What we know is that there’s interest in diverting the funding to social workers and restorative justice coordinators. Also, the California School Employees Association union, who represents the sworn police officers, have requested to be at the table to help with designing a new system of safety.
I’ve worked closely with governmental systems that are undergoing major systems transformations, albeit in the health care field, and this approach to change is familiar, and promising. A decision for change was made, but there are quite a few steps before that decision is actually implemented—there’s a need to assess the current system, research best practices for a new system and, of course, the subsequent design of the new system specifically for Oakland. Additionally, we’ll need a plan for a transition from the old system to the new one. All the while, engaging with a diverse set of constituents: students, governments, unions, police departments, school districts, parents, civil rights organizations.
Don’t forget an analysis of unintended consequences. This is one of the earliest lessons I was taught doing health policy analysis in Chicago: systems are like a balloon, if you squeeze one part of the balloon, there’s going to be pressure elsewhere. In Oakland, there’s already been discussion about the consequences of using the Oakland Police Department to respond to school emergencies. While the dedicated school police are trained in working with youth during a crisis, the Oakland Police are not. This raises obvious concerns that will hopefully be addressed in the December plan.
⚡️ Opportunity for collective growth and embracing the pain of change
If you’re among those that are uncomfortable with defunding the police, out of fear for “who will keep us safe”, I urge you to consider what blindspots you may have as you think about societal approaches to safety. Gary Yee, the Oakland Unified School District Board President, was initially against defunding the police but realized “the blindness I had focusing on physical safety. I blocked out the importance of social-emotional and trauma-informed safety.” As a social worker, I couldn’t be more excited to see this kind of holistic approach to forming more just educational and safety systems.
The hard work is yet to come—uprooting centuries-old systems of policing and transitioning to a more humane and holistic safety system won’t be easy. I’m not alone in my interest in how Oakland addresses defunding its school police department. Oakland’s leadership in this area will inform how many other school districts approach defunding their own police departments. Defunding the police offers a real opportunity to grow as a society, to work together to build better systems that have roots not in slavery, not in the deliberate oppression of people, but in collective growth, healing, and human flourishing.
When we experience these moments of civil unrest, we’re offered the opportunity for change. Change isn’t easy, it’s full of potential growth, of moving into a future where we aren’t sure exactly how things will work. When the current system is so blatantly not working—there’s really no excuse for the disproportionate numbers of Black and Brown persons involved in police violence—the pain and challenge of this growth is a risk we must take.
As a society, like any group, the best outcomes are when we work together, when we all thrive. We cannot have systems that divide us, that only work for certain groups and not others, and harm certain groups but not others. We can do better, we can design better social systems. Now is the time to start experimenting, now is a time for collective growth.