This weekend’s presidential debate took place mere miles from Ferguson, Missouri, yet there was no mention of the tension and division that characterizes police-community relations. No matter your opinion on shootings of and by police, it is clear that our society is mired in conflict about what policing should look like and the role that stereotyping of and implicit bias towards people of color plays. Proposed solutions vary: a Junior Citizens Police Academy started by a high school principal in Coney Island brings together police officers and high school students to build trust through open dialogue in and out of the classroom; the LAPD recently issued a new policy that calls for officers to treat the homeless with compassion and empathy; police departments across the country are adopting implicit bias training; Campaign Zero delivered a ten-point manifesto that proposes policy solutions such as using independent investigators in cases of police force and demilitarizing local departments; and Black Lives Matter members (among others) are investigating the idea of police-free communities.
At PACH, we always start by looking at the root of the problem. According to decades of research, biases, stereotypes, and distrust among groups are often caused by a lack of empathy between those who are different from each other. In the case of police officers and community members, each is not able to see themselves in the other and thus implicit bias, stereotyping, and distrust more easily evolve into violence. The long-term solution therefore must be rooted in the recognition of a common humanity, the first step toward building more caring and connected communities. In response to this empathy gap, PACH is engaged in efforts to spark conversation about policing, violence, bias, and stereotyping that includes cops and members of the communities they serve. Our initiatives seek to inform and foster emerging community policing 2.0 strategies that move beyond having police officers and community members interacting with each other. We start from a new place, helping each see themselves in the other. Engagement is critical but it is not enough; unlocking empathy is essential for decreasing the mistrust and violence and building the kind of relationship that is at the core of understanding and connected communities.
As part of this effort, we launched the We Are Human (WAH) video campaign in four communities in California, Los Angeles, Oakland, Richmond, and Stockton. This campaign captures video self-portraits of people, a mix of police officers and community members, answering five questions that underscore our common humanity. Each of the questions has been found to evoke responses that reveal remarkable similarities across diverse communities. These videos are only the beginning of PACH’s efforts to contribute to solutions to the current tension. The necessary foundation of any effective relationship is seeing the humanity in the other, and the only way to solve our problems as a community and society is through collective action and collaboration. We need each other. That’s what it means to be human.