I’m noticing a big social media misstep this week: lots of law enforcement agencies, mostly police departments and sheriff’s offices posting in solidarity with Dallas, Texas police – as they absolutely should – but that were silent after the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile this week.
Of course you should support your own tribe – I certainly do, when it’s one of my tribes: aid workers abroad, nonprofit workers here in the USA, journalists, and Kentuckians.
But it’s also a time to counter narratives that create mistrust and call for violence. It is a time when we all need to show that, even if we disagree, we do not believe violence is the answer, and we stand together, as humans, from a place of compassion and rational thought.
Here’s some ideas for phrases for law enforcement agencies to post on, say, Twitter, when there is a shooting by police of a citizen, and there is controversy about that shooting:
We are closely following events in [[name of city where shooting occurred]]. We hope for compassion for families affected, peace at protests.
We strive to build connections in our community. All are welcomed to apply to ride along with 1 of our officers. Info: [[link]]
We welcome local #blacklivesmatter activists to our citizens’ academy, to talk with our officers, ask questions: [[link]]
We provide many ways for any community member to meet with officers, face-to-face, talk with us. Info: [[link]]
We will have a meeting on [[date]]; community members welcomed to come, ask questions re: our policing policies [[link]]
These are deliberate messages that acknowledge what has happened, and even if you think a civilian shooting is justified, you are showing that you acknowledge that there might be a disconnect with some in your local community, and you want to bridge divides.
Yes, you are going to get hateful responses to such social media messages. But it’s not those people you are reaching out to. You are reaching out to local people in your own community who have had negative experiences with the police, or who are skeptical of law enforcement, for whatever reason. You are saying to those members of your community, “We hear you, even if we don’t agree with everything you are saying, just as you don’t agree with everything we are saying. But we do want to meet you, to know you, to talk with you outside of law enforcement situations. We welcome you. ‘Protect and Serve the community’ means YOU too.”
Of course, you cannot say any of that if it’s not true… but I think, for the majority of law enforcement agencies in the USA, it is. Let’s stop the cycle of outrage with sincere, honest community outreach, transparency and understanding.
- Justice in Policing Toolkit – A free, detailed, extensive toolkit from The Center for Popular Democracy on how to reform police departments to build community relationships and stay focused on justice and human rights. It elevates fifteen policy reforms with examples of successful implementation, best practices, sample legislation and additional resources. There is LOTS regarding community engagement.
- Citizens academy – intensive community engagement – my own largely positive experience with the Washington County Sheriff Department’s citizens academy.
- We need volunteer police officers – & an overhaul as well – a plea in support of involving volunteers in law enforcement.
- Handling Online Criticism – practical tips on responding to online critics, no matter how hostile.