Simmering tensions between police and communities came to a head with tragic consequence in the US this year. Around the world, the dynamic between people and those appointed to keep the peace is often uneasy. Five experts suggest ways forward for better relations between police and the public
Gunshots tore into the calm evening air in Dallas on 7 July as Micah Johnson, an African American man, began shooting white police officers at an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. By sunrise the next day, five officers lay dead. The tragedy stunned America and sparked soul-searching among both police and protestors.
The murders provoked particular shock because, after notorious shootings by police in the 1970s and 1980s, the Dallas Police Department had more recently been considered a model of police reform. Under the leadership of African American police chief David Brown, better training and more rigorous accountability has yielded impressive results.
Complaints about officers using excessive force dropped by two-thirds between 2009 and 2014. And, even as police shootings of African American youths in Ferguson and Chicago triggered outrage and protests, community relations in Dallas remained cordial. Before gunfire broke out on 7 July, marchers hugged, snapped selfies and exchanged high fives with officers.
But across America, tensions between police departments and African American communities remain high. And this difficulty is echoed closer to home. The London riots of five years ago unfolded in part due to the death of Mark Duggan, a black man from Tottenham in Haringey, who was shot dead by police. This corner of north London had already witnessed the 1985 Broadwater Farm riot in which a police officer died, and levels of antagonism between local people and officers remained high.
Too often, say residents and activists, police leaders are unwilling to drive wholehearted cultural change. But a growing number of departments appear to be seriously considering the question: how can we truly serve our communities?
The results can be dramatic. After struggling with corruption and racial tension for much of the 1990s, Cincinnati’s police force overhauled its operations, with police ‘use of force’ incidents falling by 70 per cent between 1999 and 2014. Violent crime dropped too: from 4,317 in the year following the 2001 riots to 2,352 in 2014.
The Los Angeles riots of 1992 were triggered when four police officers were acquitted for the use of excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King. Afterwards, the LA Police Department began two decades of reforms that led to the once primarily white police force becoming ‘majority minority’, with more Hispanic officers than white. However, relations with the community remain less than peaceful; shootings by the force spiked by 50 per cent last year, with black people five times more likely to be shot than white, according to an LAPD report.
Meanwhile in New York, police leaders have curtailed controversial ‘stop-and-frisk’ programmes. Rates of violent crime in the city are now at an all-time low. Shootings are down by 20 per cent, and in the first half of this year, there were fewer shootings than in the first six months of any recorded year.
Reforms are not confined to the US. In the UK, elected commissioners can now set priorities and hire and fire constables – a move intended to promote accountability.
Liberia, a country of 4.6 million on the west African coast, saw a ninefold increase in the number of female police officers between 2003 and 2013, as leaders sought a more sensitive handling of gender-based violence.
And in Georgia, policing has come a long way since the Soviet era, when police bribes were a daily norm. When Mikheil Saakashvili became president in 2004, he sacked large numbers of police officers and rebuilt the force from the ground up. Now, more than 80 per cent of Georgians say they trust the police.
Such sweeping reforms aren’t always possible. Many believe that the restoration of trust relies on incremental change, driven by leaders willing to listen to community concerns.
Positive News asked five experts: how can policing be improved?
“Valuing, diversity and empathy became the new core values of the New Zealand Police in 2014, and this led directly to new ways of working.
Our ‘Do you care enough to be a cop?’ campaign seeks to recruit people motivated to make a positive difference in their communities. Treating others with courtesy, showing compassion towards victims and being sensitive to the needs of different cultures helps to ensure that people are safe and that they feel safe too.
Diversity is really important to us – it has to be. New Zealand is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse countries in the world. Fifteen per cent of New Zealanders are Maori and a further 25 per cent were born overseas – a proportion that rises to 40 per cent in Auckland, our biggest city.
Reflecting that diversity is an operational necessity. If we are able to provide the highest level of service to all of our communities, we need to genuinely engage with them. Our latest recruitment campaign specifically reaches out to 18 to 29-year-olds who are Maori, Pacific, Chinese, Indian, Latin American, African and Middle Eastern.
New Zealand Police’s Do you care enough to be a cop? recruitment campaign features videos filmed in real streets in which members of the public come to the aid of clearly distressed individuals. A subtitle reads: “She cared enough. Would you?”
In 2001, Cincinnati had a massive uprising after years of police violence and killings of black people. The Department of Justice intervened, but what made Cincinnati’s response unique was that the interests of the community were represented. The legacy of the city’s Collaborative Agreement is not that tensions have ceased to exist between police and community, but that law enforcement and residents have tools to solve these problems.
Too often decisions are made about police practices with only high level government officials in the room. The agreement’s model for community problem-oriented policing put law enforcement back into neighbourhoods. The police worked with residents to adopt proactive programmes. For instance, if residents complained about an abandoned house that was a crime magnet, police worked with neighbourhood leaders to repurpose the house and help those living there to rebuild their lives.
The road to reform was not an easy one – there were many times when tension was high and I thought change might never happen. But many years later, there is a strong review board and policing practices that mean officers are held accountable.”
Christine Link has been the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio for more than 25 years
“In America, policing isn’t a learning profession – we just keep making the same mistakes over and over. We’ve been writing reports on improving police behaviour since the 1960s, and they all say the same thing: treat citizens with dignity and respect; more training; community engagement; hold officers accountable. These reports were paid for with blood through the mistakes we’ve made in Oakland, in Baltimore, in Ferguson. They form a roadmap for success, but shockingly 99 per cent of police officers haven’t even read them.
We need to start hiring police chiefs who are critical thinkers and lifelong learners, who’ll use these reports as checklists for improving their departments. If we don’t, we could still be talking about these same issues in 50 or 100 years.
The Black Lives Matter movement is about communities showing their disappointment. As a black man in America, I get that – even after becoming a police officer, I’ve been pulled over at traffic stops and disrespected. Black police officers are caught in a strange twilight zone, empathising with communities of colour, but also wearing the uniform. That means many black police officers take a back seat. We need them to speak up and start taking leadership roles.”
Roy Alston is a patrol watch commander with the Dallas Police Department, Texas. He is the author of several books on leadership and facilitates police leadership programmes.
“The officers I work with have open and inquisitive minds, are compassionate, approachable and enthusiastic about keeping people safe. There is a perception within some of London’s minority communities, both black and white, that all police officers are racist. This is such an inaccurate and unfair position that it makes some officers nervous in their interactions with people from minority groups. A genuine mistake can be misinterpreted as a discriminatory act.
The history of community relations between the police in London and the black community is littered with examples of where things have gone disastrously wrong. But I have no doubt that the Met is totally committed to improving race relations. I haven’t met any officer who would want to damage police and community relations.
We need to train and encourage officers to understand that each encounter may require something slightly different. This requires courage at times because individuals and communities can be quick to criticise. When I took over in Haringey the relationship between police and the community was fragile. So it was reassuring to find that the vast majority of the community wanted to build good, strong working relationships with us. If the people in Haringey can be that ready to build positive relationships with their local police, the people of London can do that with the Met.”
Ch Supt Victor Olisa is a former Haringey borough commander and the Met’s most senior black officer.
“For decades in Liberia the police acted in the interest of the regime rather than the security of the people. Efforts for improved accountability following the civil war have been slow. But an oversight body established in 2013 allows for complaints to be made against police officers or judges. These are passed on to the Ministry of Justice for review. Though more needs to be done to raise awareness of this process, and the review would be better undertaken by a neutral body, it is a step in the right direction.
More importantly a new police act was finally ratified in 2016, which makes the Liberia National Police a semi-autonomous body, in an effort to counteract political appointments.
Corruption can also stem from police not having the materials they need to carry out their job or to adequately feed their families, so I would advocate a focus on better pay.
Reforms needs to happen incrementally, with real oversight and transparency. In Liberia, too many interested parties including the UN, aid agencies, donor countries and government, have tried to do too many different things at the same time.
The key to any reform process is to see it as continuous, rather than something that ends when boxes are ticked. Post-conflict societies are complex and re-establishing security comes with many challenges. Having said that, the Liberian police have made great strides.”
Franzisca Zanker studies the microdynamics of peacebuilding and carries out fieldwork in Liberia.
The world-famous Black author and thinker known as bell hooks passed away on December 15, 2021, at age 69. From the WINGS archive, here are excerpts of her speaking in 1993, the year she published Sisters of the Yam: Black women and self-recovery, and whilst she was working on the book to be titled Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1995).
A good way to describe Susana Lopez is to read her facebook wall where many former students of this young teacher from Ovalle greet her and remember her. “The teacher taught me the values of honesty and nonviolence. “Aunt Susana always had a space for us, to listen to us and give us advice. “Thanks to the teacher I decided to study law to be able to defend the weakest and those who nobody takes into account”.
And so, hundreds of messages of love, affection and respect for the person who is now running for Congress for the first time.
“It was very difficult for me to make up my mind because of the exposure that a candidacy for national deputy demands, and on top of that, on the ballot paper, I am in the centre and first on the list”, says Susana, laughing at this paradox.
President of the Coquimbo region of the Humanist Party, it was the members of Humanismo in the region who decided to proclaim her, “it is important that people know that this candidacy does not arise, like all the others, in an office in Santiago, but that it is the people of the territory who decide”, she says, affirming that she is not part of any political caste where other candidates run again and again and make a career playing with the hopes of the people.
“It is incredible, but there are candidates from the parties that have shared power over the last thirty years who promise what they have never done before, and then the question arises: how long will people allow themselves to be fooled into voting for them again? That’s why this candidacy makes sense, because we want to be a different, brave alternative with new ideas and proposals.
What are these proposals?
The Law of Political Responsibility, presented by our deputy Laura Rodriguez in 1990, and which was never dealt with, proposes the revocation of the mandate of any authority or elected official who does not fulfil his or her campaign promises within a period of one year.
A Law of Worker Ownership through which all companies that share profits with their workers can have some kind of tax exemption, since we believe that the capital-labour relationship has to be seen from a new perspective where the most important thing is the Human Being and not money.
The creation of an Environmental Social Tribunal, neighbours working together with the judiciary so that those who pollute go to jail, enough of paying fines to continue ruining our ecosystem.
Popular Water Committee to put an end to the plundering of water in our communities and the business of water trucks which is an abuse for our people, especially the peasantry.
We are going to put pressure on the authorities so that we have an oncology centre of excellence in our region, it cannot be that families have to migrate to be able to have cancer treatments, we need political decision to understand that health is a right for the whole country and not only for those who live in Santiago.
We are concerned about violence against women, every day we know of more cases and nobody does anything. We are going to put pressure on the decision makers to create shelters run by women in the main cities of our region.
As I am a teacher and I experience the problems of education on a daily basis, we are going to propose a Law on Education for Nonviolence, where students, parents and teachers are taught tools for conflict resolution through active nonviolence.
The enthusiasm does not wane in Susana who defines herself as an ordinary person, “my father was a taxi driver to Sotaqui, I have always lived the values of work, honesty and love, also good and decent people have the right to get involved in politics and Humanism has a history of coherence and transparency that make it unique”.
This reference has its roots in the fact that the Humanist Party was the first to be legalised in the midst of the dictatorship (1986).
“When I joined the Humanist Party, 15 years ago, I found a proposal that fitted perfectly with what I needed, the idea of simultaneous social and personal change seemed wonderful to me and resonated with me, with the personal work I could recognise my strength and rely on my virtues to remove the suffering look on the bad things that had happened to me”,
“We Humanists were the only ones who marched together with the people without anyone running us off and we were in the assemblies that took place at the time, and we want this support to be translated into votes to be able to change history”, she says with strength and conviction.
“If Pamela Jiles, being the only humanist deputy, was able to turn the tide and achieve the withdrawal of the AFP and with that put food on the table for hundreds of Chilean families, can you imagine what a humanist bench could achieve”, Susana says and says goodbye, walking calmly through the streets handing out flyers and smiles to those who pass by.
The closeness that people feel with Susana is because she is genuine and shows herself as she is, and as a neighbour told her: “it is time for people like you to represent us”.
La Via Campesina’s Press Statement | September 22nd 2021, Harare:
La Via Campesina is among scores of other social movements of organized small-scale food producers, workers and indigenous people boycotting the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), slated to take place in New York – September 23rd, 2021. Peoples’ movements are united in condemning the illegitimacy of this ‘summit’ and in denouncing the attempt by transnational corporations to usurp the institutional spaces within the United Nations.
Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) that comprise social movements including La Via Campesina has pointed out that the pre-summit events held in July are now erecting parallel governance structures. UNFSS is undermining the existing institutions and multilateral bodies responsible for developing global policy frameworks for food and agriculture. Several member states are left wondering what this Summit intends to achieve and whether its outcomes would be binding upon developing national policy frameworks. It will override the existing institutions such as the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and forebodes a corporate takeover of the global food governance.
For sure, the global food systems must undergo a radical overhaul. Rising hunger, ecological harm from food production, including deforestation, soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, decimated fisheries, polluted waters, growing rural poverty, the continued repression of peasant and indigenous movements worldwide, displacement and climate crises – all point to the need for urgent transformation. The demand to transform the global food system and skew it in favour of small-scale food producers has been a long-standing one, stated first during the Civil Society Forum in Rome in 1996.
Yet when the Secretary-General of the United Nations announced two years ago that a Food Systems Summit (FSS) would be held in late 2021, the news was puzzling. Why did the Secretary-General initiate this food summit in partnership with the World Economic Forum – a private sector body – when the FAO hosted all the previous editions after specific mandates from the Members States? To leave no further doubt about the corporate interests driving the Food System Summit, the Special Envoy appointed for the Summit, Agnes Kalibata, is the president of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). This Gates/Rockefeller funded agency is pushing high input, high tech agriculture and GMO seeds. Founded in 2006, this Alliance has worked in 13 African countries to increase productivity for 30 million smallholder farming households by encouraging industrial farming adoption. Despite AGRA’s promises of doubling crop productivity and incomes while halving food insecurity by 2020, backed by billions of donor dollars, it has been unable to provide documentation of delivering on these goals. AGRA’s failures on the continent and Ms Kalibata’s apparent conflicts of interest in her role as UNFSS Special Envoy resulted in broad resistance from social movements and civil society.
The farce of ‘inclusiveness.’
The Summit organizers follow a multi-stakeholder approach as against a multilateral arrangement. Multilateral Summits, based on human rights, with transparent decision-making processes and accountability mechanisms, are meant to prioritize the voices of rights-holders and hold governments responsible for upholding those rights. But this “UN Food Systems Summit” is based on the idea of “multi-stakeholder” – treating all stakeholders as equal, without considering power imbalances or their position in the system. This fiction of equality leaves the powerful both unchallenged and unaccountable, hiding or ignoring any conflicts of interest. By conflating private corporate interests with the public interest, it overrides and erases the latter. To advertise “inclusiveness”, it has proliferated a dizzying array of platforms, dialogues, consultations, committees, documents and forums for participation. Private citizens and governments are being drawn into these processes. Some of these are open, but many are for invited participants, bypassing and undermining autonomous, democratic organizations while favouring hand-picked individuals. The entire process lacks transparency and legitimacy. Who is making decisions? On what grounds? Who is accountable? To whom?
The guise of progressive language
In July this year, La Via Campesina was among the members of the CSM that co-organized counter mobilizations – to call out the unacceptability that has come to define this year’s food systems summit. A wide variety of attendees came together and catalyzed and amplified a counter-narrative to the official proceedings. With critical articles and pieces published in major media outlets, and several thousands of #FoodSystems4People posts on social media seen by potentially 10 million users, the counter-mobilization succeeded in reaching a broad public with its vision for genuine transformation of unsustainable food systems.
This organized resistance rattled the organizers of the official Summit. In response, they have now ramped up the use of progressive language (“sustainability”, “nature-positive-solutions”, “planetary boundaries”, “women’s empowerment”, etc.) and references to human rights in their documents. But the primary orientation of the FSS remains firmly rooted in the corporate interests that initiated it rather than the demands and rights of people producing food and those most impacted by current food systems. It continues to confirm a narrow range of scientific partisans data while ignoring the traditional and experiential knowledge of small-scale farmers, indigenous, peasant, and rural peoples. Digitalization, genetic modification, precision agriculture, and other chemical-, capital-, and fossil fuel-heavy approaches are taking centre stage because these so-called solutions are the most profitable to corporations (at the expense of the environment and farmers’ livelihoods).
As the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food notes, “Intensive industrial agriculture relies on high-input, high-output agricultural systems, dominated by large-scale specialized farms. Ever since Governments started adopting the Green Revolution in the 1950s, the world’s food systems have been increasingly designed along industrial models, the idea being that if people can purchase industrial inputs – synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and carbon-reliant machines – then they can produce a large amount of food. Productivity was not measured in terms of human and environmental health, but exclusively in terms of commodity output and economic growth.”
Unfortunately, the UN Food Systems Summit ignores all these warnings and continues to bat for an intensive corporate-led agricultural model that masquerades as “solutions”.
Forebodings of a new global governance structure?
This Summit attacks from the front and will undermine existing global policymaking spaces and institutions like FAO and the CFS. Instead, it erects a parallel architecture to suit agribusiness interests. The Summit organizers are now encouraging stakeholders to form “coalitions of action” to implement “solutions”. Governments are encouraged to develop “national pathways” with stakeholder coalitions, many of which will inevitably be dominated by those who can afford to fund them. Middle and Low-income countries are vulnerable to entering “coalitions” with investors and philanthrocapitalists, such as the Gates Foundation, to carve out “national pathways” profitable for their coalition partners.
The resistance to this parallel structure is coming from within the official Summit too. In her resignation letter (dated August 25/21), Dr Kristy Buckley, Chair of the UNFSS Governance Action Area, derided the attempts to view the global food governance “through the lens of innovation, finance, technology and data, with no regard to human rights, gender, and Indigenous Peoples”. Her statement is a vindication of what social movements have been warning for a long time.
The real solution to climate crises, hunger, distress migration and extreme poverty lies with the people. It must emerge from the principles of food sovereignty and social justice. It must recognize food as a fundamental human right and not as a commodity for speculative trade. It must respect the diverse agroecological small-scale food systems that exist in our territories.
The “UN Food Systems Summit” of 2021 is an anti-thesis to these principles and threatens peoples’ food sovereignty. La Via Campesina will not remain silent. The UNFSS has no mandate, legitimacy, or authority to extend beyond September 23rd, 2021. We must prevent the Summit’s corporate affiliates from further embedding the multi-stakeholder structure into the UN food and agriculture agencies. Throughout this week, La Via Campesina’s member organization will hold counter mobilizations in Asia, Africa and Europe. Our North American members and allies will be holding a virtual counter-summit on September 23rd to expose the real agenda behind this Summit while also presenting the elements of the radical transformation we seek in the global food systems.