BC Expert: Aftermath of Police Cases in Ferguson & NYC
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Tiziana Dearing is an associate professor of the practice whose current teaching focuses on social innovation and leadership. Additional research and teaching interests include poverty and inequity, especially in urban environments, and social justice in public policy. Prior to joining the BC School of Social Work, Dearing led a number of anti-poverty organizations, including Boston Rising, a start-up anti-poverty fund, and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston, where she was the first woman president. She also spent nearly a decade as a management consultant both to Fortune 500 companies and to mission-driven nonprofit organizations. In 2012, Dearing was appointed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to serve on Governor Patrick’s Commission on a Cashless EBT Payment System. She blogs regularly forThe Huffington Post and WBUR’s Cognoscenti and provides frequent media commentary to both local and national outlets on topics such as nonprofits, philanthropy, and social justice.
"I think we have multiple issues at hand here. We have what appears to be a condition, at least in urban America, in which interactions between white police officers and black men lead to a set of assumptions about intent that the officers are making toward the black men, and thus to a type of use of force, that is either disproportionate, or at the very least different from what gets triggered when the incident involves a different racial mix. It makes me think of the 'thin slicing' that Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his book, Blink. What are the sets of stereotypes and associations that we bring into split-second decision making? In incident after incident in which black men are being shot by white officers, there appear to be different associations than there would be with another population.
Second, we have a multi-layer conversation going on. One layer is the relationship between black males and the criminal justice system. There, the data paint an undeniable picture of racial bias, and of mass incarceration. Another layer is the overall black experience in America versus the white experience. Black/white, police/victim incidents are one manifestation of that, as is the mass incarceration phenomenon, but there are many, many other ways in which blacks in America have a different, and less equal, lived experience. Think about access to quality education, health outcomes, levels of employment/unemployment, access to capital, even relative wealth and relative share in the country's GDP. We have to recognize that Ferguson and New York are manifestations of a larger set of experiences. We can talk about them in a criminal justice context, but we have to be mindful that they happen in a larger environment of disparity that matters, and that also must be addressed."
“This is a failure of public policy and leadership across the board,” says Associate Professor of the Practice Tiziana Dearing of the Boston College School of Social Work, whose research and teaching interests include poverty and inequity, especially in urban environments, and social justice in public policy. “Everything about the handling of the timing, the placement of law-enforcement, the delivery of the message, whether intentional or not, set up a set of conditions that pointed in this direction.
“There seems to be shocking neglect of policing around the buildings where the young people began to loot, and commit crimes. It doesn't excuse crime. Don't get me wrong. But this just devastates the overall message of racial inequity, which should, in fact, hold, and feels to be the product of neglect, and lack of understanding both of social behavior, and of the needs of leadership in times of crisis.”
“This finding removes the option of having a discussion about race in urban America via trial proceedings,” says Dearing, who has led a number of anti-poverty organizations, including Boston Rising, a start-up anti-poverty fund. “Trial proceedings haven't proven a good way in the past, either. But we must have the conversation. Black and white Americans are living different experiences. We have a serious race issue in this country and we have to deal with it.
“People have been using the Ferguson incident as a Rorschach test - they see what they want to see in it,” continues Dearing, who spent nearly a decade as a management consultant both to Fortune 500 companies and to mission-driven nonprofit organizations. “If you want to see a case of police brutality, you can see that. If you want to see a case of racial injustice, you can see that. If you want to see another case of an aggressive black teen who confronts police and then pays the consequences, you can see that. Part of what has happened around Ferguson is the lack of clarity has allowed people to tell themselves whatever story they want, and that’s part of what’s led us to be divided.
“There is a difference between questions of racial justice and our criminal justice system. A grand jury produces an indictment based on very specific things and an indictment is one measure of right and wrong but it’s not the only one. The decision by the grand jury is not the end-all be-all of what happened, whether it was right, or what should happen next.”
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