After the high-profile police killings of Black people like Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and numerous others, polls show a majority of Americans say we need major changes to how police provide public safety. Policymakers and political leaders—under pressure from the Defund and Black Lives Matter movements—are now considering a variety of measures to protect civil rights and curb police brutality. But Harvard Kennedy School professors Sandra Susan Smith and Yanilda González say history shows that reforming the police is much easier said than done.
Featuring SANDRA SUSAN SMITH AND YANILDA GONZÁLEZ
OCTOBER 5, 2020
34 minutes and 28 seconds
Recent polls show a majority of Americans say we need major changes to how police enforce the law and provide public safety. Policymakers and political leaders—under pressure from the Defund and Black Lives Matter movements after high-profile police killings of Black people like Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and numerous others—are now considering a variety of measures to curb police brutality. But Harvard Kennedy School faculty members Sandra Susan Smith, the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice, and Assistant Professor of Public Policy Yanilda González say history has shown that reforming the police is much easier said than done.
In her studies of policing in Latin America, González says authoritarian police forces have been able to block or roll back reforms even in otherwise democratic countries. In countries with high levels of polarization and inequality, including the U.S., she says, political pressure often puts police in the role of protecting “us” — the dominant group — from “them.”
Smith, the new director of the Kennedy School’s Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, says studies show that many widely-proposed reforms simply have not been effective in reducing police brutality. Measures like anti-bias training, body cameras, and diversity hiring fail, she says, because they put the onus on individual officers to change deeply-entrenched systemic behavior.
So if those things won’t work, what will? Host Thoko Moyo and her two guests sort through this difficult problem and some possible solutions.
This episode is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.
Intro (Yanilda González): Quite often, we find that, because of inequality, people see other fellow citizens as threats, and they see the police as a kind of bulwark, as a protection against those other citizens. That immediately gets in the way of having the type of police forces or legal institutions that are out there to protect all of us, so we get the policing that is carried out on behalf of some of us but against others.
Intro (Susan Smith): There's also no real evidence that diversifying police forces makes any difference in terms of experience of police brutality. Some of our most diverse police forces are police forces where the rates of police brutality, the killing of black and brown bodies, is the highest.
Thoko Moyo: Recent polls show that a majority of Americans believe we need major changes to how police enforce the law and provide public safety. Policymakers and political leaders, under pressure from the Defund and Black Lives Matter movements, are now considering a variety of measures to improve policing and curb police violence. The ultimate goal? Giving people of color the same public safety protections long enjoyed by white Americans, but our guests today, Harvard Kennedy School Professors Sandra Susan Smith and Yanilda González, say history has shown that reforming the police is much easier said than done.
In her studies of policing in Latin America, Professor González says authoritarian police forces have been able to block or roll back reforms even in countries that have democratic rule. In countries with high levels of polarization and inequality, including the U.S., she says, police are often given the role of protecting us, the dominant group, from them. Professor Smith, the new director of the Kennedy School's Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, says studies show that many widely proposed reforms simply have not been effective in reducing civil rights violations and brutality by the police. Measures like anti-bias training, body cameras, and diversity hiring fail, she says, because they've put the pressure on individual officers to change deeply-entrenched systemic behavior. If those things don't work, what will? Our two guests will help us sort through this difficult problem and offer some possible solutions. Welcome to PolicyCast.
Thoko Moyo: Why don't we start with you, Yanilda. Your research and teaching focuses primarily on police violence and police reform in Latin America, and you examine how democratic politics, for instance, may actually reproduce authoritarian police. Tell me a little bit more about this. Maybe start with just giving us a sense of what do you mean by authoritarian police, and how does the democratic system foster that even?
Yanilda González: Well, thanks very much for having me as part of PolicyCast. It's really great to be able to have this conversation, particularly at this moment that we're in as a country. One of the things that I started to notice as I was becoming involved in human rights and work on police violence, first in the US and then in Argentina, was that we saw police forces that didn't quite seem to match what we would expect out of democratic institutions. I would go to protests or I would work with families, and I would go to events and hear of police forces that are acting outside the scope of the law, not subject to accountability, and that often operate in politicized ways . As I started to get into graduate school and academia in more depth, I started to read more of the literature on democracy authoritarianism and got into works that were written by folks about police in authoritarian countries. I saw a lot of familiarity of the types of police forces that I've just described, even though those police forces are ostensibly in democratic governments.
We think about the US and many countries in Latin America. We're talking about countries with elections that are, more or less, free or fair. Everybody gets to vote. There's alternation in power. They have legislatures, all these institutions and processes that we associate with democracy, but the police forces don't quite match. It was that kind of disconnect between the type of regime, the type of government that we have, democracies in many of these places, and the ways that police institutions operate that led me to develop this concept of authoritarian police and to think about how they operate and are actually reproduced in democracy.
Thoko Moyo: How does that happen? Because it is counter-intuitive — I mean you imagine a democratic system would produce a police that works for all the citizens without the issues that you've mentioned around accountability and acting outside of the law. How does that happen?
Yanilda González: Yeah. That's exactly the questions that I asked myself and I sought to try to unpack over the last decade of my research. Again, one of the contradictions that I saw, and I think it's actually really easy to see the connection today as we think about it in the US, that democracies, through democratic processes, create incentives for those types of police forces to emerge. I'll explain what I mean. You have unequal, divided societies like ours, like in the US and like many Latin American and elsewhere in the world, where you have different segments of the population by class, by race, by geography. Quite often, we find that, because of inequality, people see other people, their other fellow citizens, as threats, and they see the police as a kind of bulwark, as a protection against those other citizens. That immediately gets in the way of having the type of police forces or legal institutions that are out there to protect all of us, so we get into policing that is carried out on behalf of some of us but against others, and so protection is no longer this universal good. It's something that is given to some at the expense of others while others receive repression.
Politicians who are looking to win elections, they're going to pick issues that are going to get the votes. Quite often, when people are concerned about crime and security, policing becomes one of those issues. What we've seen in the US is the two political parties taking starkly different positions on this question because they realize, "This is an area where we can get votes." You have one presidential candidate, President Trump, who's saying, "Crime is going up, and you should be very concerned about this, and so what you should do is... We need tougher policing. All these calls for police reform are just going to make it harder for police to protect you, so what we need to do is actually give police more free rein and loosen any kind of restrictions of accountability and what-not that might have existed previously. We've seen him, actually since 2016, play this same note, but he's doing it much more emphatically this time around and with a much more clear appeal to authoritarian types of policing. Saying that police are going to be at the polls when people are trying to vote, that police police officers that support him are going to be, quote, unquote, enforcing things at election sites is a form of politicized use of policing. Yeah. That's sort of what I mean by that the elections themselves can generate incentives for politicians to reinforce authoritarian policing.
Thoko Moyo: It feels like, in the US, we're at a pivotal moment where there is this very, very high-profile discourse and a real push for change and reform of the police. What have you seen, in your research, that feels similar in Latin America? Have there been instances where pushes for reform have actually led to better policing that works for everyone?
Yanilda González: Yeah, absolutely. I think that what we're seeing in the U.S. is very similar to the types of processes that I studied in Latin America. They often happen around or leading up to elections. We see there being a convergence of societal preferences and demands around police reform, that people that used to disagree about what we want the police to do, due to some scandal or some big galvanizing event of police misconduct, leads sectors that used to oppose police reform or that used to be neutral on the issue to then support police reform. We've seen a similar thing. We've seen the largest protests in the US that we've ever seen around the issues of police violence, and we've seen sectors that used to not support policing police reform get on that camp, and so those types of mobilizations happening around elections.
In the case of Colombia and in the case of Buenos Aires Province in Argentina, these are two cases that I studied where police forces were, of course... if you can imagine police forces being in much, much, much more dire straits than anything that we've seen anywhere in the US, engaging in much higher levels of violence and much higher levels of corruption and the like. These transformative moments, which are very similar to the one we're seeing our own, led to very comprehensive reforms along everything from police education and training to recruitment to internal and external accountability and oversight to pathways for citizen participation in policing and promotion standards. Every aspect of policing was on the table to be changed, to be looked at, and so, in both instances, we saw very comprehensive and far-reaching types of reforms be enacted. This was back in the 1990s. Again, that grew out of processes where different sectors of society and politics came together and said, "We need to figure this out."
Thoko Moyo: So it can happen. You can reform.
Yanilda González: Well, you can pass legislation, and that itself is hard enough. You can begin to implement it, but the other side of my research is how those reforms can also become undone. When you go back to those moments of societal division, which I call fragmentation, and you start to get fear of crime being more salient again, et cetera, et cetera, you get those sectors of society being divided again. That opens up the political space for politicians to be like, "Okay, I can sort of exploit this to my advantage and just say to loosen the cuffs on our police. These reforms are actually making our police weaker and unable to protect you." In both instances, in the cases that I just mentioned in Buenos Aires, Argentina and in Colombia, elections gave way to those kinds of discourses, and the reforms started to be undone piece by piece.
Thoko Moyo: Sandra, let me bring you in here because you wrote, recently, that America is in this great moment of focus and discourse around racial justice, policing, et cetera, particularly after... in fact, triggered primarily by the murder of George Floyd. For most people, this moment felt very different, but you were a little more skeptical. I mean your sense was, "Yes, this feels different, but there's a really good chance that we'll find ourselves here again in the not-too-distant future." Why is that? Why were you skeptical?
Sandra Susan Smith: Well, I was skeptical for two reasons. The reason that lay behind the argument that I made in The Guardian article was because, even if we were miraculously to undo this institution we call racial domination, the criminal justice system penal system that does so much to dominate black and brown bodies, what's happened historically is that, whenever an institutional racial domination has been either weakened or eliminated, it's almost always replaced by another immediately. Slavery was replaced by Jim Crow. Jim Crow was replaced by segregation in the northern cities. Segregation in the northern cities was replaced by hyper-segregation and mass incarceration. What happens, it's hard for me to be very optimistic when, historically speaking, we know that, in a racial state like the US, one form of racial domination will inevitably follow another. Even if we were to dismantle it, we'd have to do a lot of work to not allow another to replace it. That was what I was thinking when I wrote The Guardian article.
There's another issue that I think is at play here, and that is, often, these institutions aren't truly threatened. It takes quite a bit to threaten an institution. The way that that happens, at least in part, is because often reforms don't do anything to fundamentally change the patterns of behavior on the ground.When we think about the reforms that have been put forward in the current era, they're a set that, I think, have been embraced by lots of municipalities across the country. I'm going to take Boston as an example because they're struggling through now agreeing on a set of reforms. What's on the table now are three things. There are actually five things that they're trying to do. There are three that I'm going to highlight first. One is implicit bias training.
Thoko Moyo: This is for the police. You're talking about reform of the police.
Sandra Susan Smith: This is for the police. We need to train our police to understand that they have implicit biases and that these implicit biases are shaping their behaviors in ways that help to produce these disparate outcomes, so let's go through this training. They will understand that they are impacted by this. Then, when they go out and engage with the public, it will make it so that they are less discriminatory in their actions. They'll be more aware that this is playing itself out.
Thoko Moyo: That makes sense.
Sandra Susan Smith: It does make sense, theoretically. But there is very little evidence to support that implicit bias training makes any difference whatsoever. I actually don't know of a study that indicates that implicit bias both shapes individuals' ways of thinking long term. Impact the way I think for a day or two. Catch me a week later, I'm back to, basically, where I was before. Even still, let's say it held. There's no evidence to indicate that it shakes behavior. In fact, the most recent study that's come out using the New York City Police Department, which paid almost $5 million to train their officers over the last couple of years, there was a study done to see whether it mattered. It made a little bit of difference in terms of how they thought about it. They understood that they had implicit biases, or more people understood it and bought that it was a thing, but it had no impact on their engagement with black, brown or white bodies. In fact, to the extent there were changes, it created greater disparities. They were more likely to treat, in problematic ways, black and Latino residents of the city, so no evidence to support this.
Why put this on the table when there is so limited support? I would argue it's symbolism, but one other thing that they have decided that they... or they're thinking seriously about adopting are these body-worn cameras. This will increase transparency and accountability. We know that our actions are being followed, et cetera, we're being tracked, then we will behave in ways that are more consistent with what's expected of us as professionals. That, too, makes sense, but it turns out it doesn't actually change any of the behaviors of officers. Most of the studies that have been done show that it has no effect. It does nothing to affect the behaviors of police officers. More than half of the studies have shown this makes no difference.
Thoko Moyo: Why is that? If you're watching what the police are doing, if you can see how they are behaving, why would a policeman not be deterred in behaving outside the law if a camera is recording all his interactions? Is there something about how the tapes are viewed? I mean what's the problem there really?
Sandra Susan Smith: I'm not sure what people have put for it. What I imagine is that there are a couple of different pathways. One is that, when you're in a situation where you're engaging with the public, you forget. You might forget that you have on the camera, and so you just get into the flow. It's kind of like when I'm teaching. I'm off, and I don't really realize anything's going on until teaching is done and, all of a sudden, I'm present again. Maybe it's the case that, when you engage, especially in situations that might be stressful to you, you forget that the cameras are on and you do what you usually do. Another possibility, and I think that this is a strong possibility, is that because police are protected in almost everything that they do, there are very limited consequences or sanctions for problematic or unprofessional behavior, "I don't really have to worry about someone seeing this affecting how I am treated, whether or not I am sanctioned."
Another possibility is that, in a lot of police forces so far, they have control over whether they show these tapes. They often have control over whether they can edit the tapes or redact them before sharing. In some cases, they don't share at all or they share when they want to. We know, for instance, in the case of the Rochester police force, the event that led to the death of… honestly, I forget his name off the top, so forgive me. His death took place in March. We didn't get, and I think it was unclear whether people even knew that there was video, until July. Not even the mayor knew that this existed, by her accounts. That's because the police actually have a lot of control over the material that is being recorded. Despite the claims that this will lead to greater accountability and transparency, because the police departments often have so much control over that material, it doesn't, so, "I don't have to show it. We're going to either keep it quiet and we say we didn't have our cameras on," as was the case in the Brianna Taylor situation, they had had it running, but they said that they didn't, or you can control every other step of the process. Then why do you have to worry if you know that there's a fair bit of control that you have, if not most of the control, in that situation?
I think there are a number of reasons why it doesn't fundamentally change. Some of them are structural, and others are probably more psychological, "I'm in the zone, and I'm not thinking about it." I suspect a lot of the structural is what is playing a part in that. What it means, though, is that it's not making a difference. We can spend all the money we want to suit up our officers with this and say, "This means, residents of our fair city, that our police will be more accountable and the processes will be more transparent," but it's not the case because it doesn't fundamentally change their behaviors. Then, of course, this is something that's been put on the table for a couple of decades at least now, and that's diversifying police forces. I fully support diversification of all workforces, so what I'm about to say is not an indication that I do not support that, but there's also no real evidence that diversifying police forces makes any difference in terms of the experience of police brutality. Some of our most diverse police forces are police forces where the rates of police brutality, killing of black and brown bodies, often unarmed, is the highest, so descriptive representation doesn't matter a whole heap in that context either.
I'm going to anticipate you're going to ask me why. In some ways, it makes sense. We imagine that individuals can come and change institutions, but the institutions do more to change us than we do, as individuals, to change them. It is a question about who becomes police officers, what that training looks like, and what the socialization looks like when you're on the ground and what the institution tells you about, who you engage and how you engage them. If you don't act in ways that are consistent with the culture of a workplace, you get sanctioned or it becomes so uncomfortable that you end up leaving for whatever reason. There's a self-selection process both as you enter, but also, it shapes who leaves, and so it's not that surprising that bringing more black and Latinos into these spaces doesn't fundamentally alter these outcomes. They are being educated, trained, socialized. In the institution of racial domination, they become agents of that institution, regardless of their race and ethnicity.
There are a couple of things, going back to the Boston situation, that Boston's taskforce, the taskforce that the mayor convened in order to look at this issue, that I think could make a difference but historically often hasn't, and that's civilian oversight review boards. If they are fully independent and empowered to do the work of investigating and suggesting punishments that get meted out, that might change how police operate because they're no longer as buffered or as protected by the system that currently protects them. The problem is that many of these oversight boards don't have that kind of power. In New York City, for instance, these oversight review boards do a lot of work to investigate what's happening on the ground, but at every step in the process, the NYPD says what kind of information they get, when they get it, if they get it at all. They even can override whatever punishments might be recommended by the board, so they have first say, second say, third, last say. They have all say. Unless you truly have a fully-empowered and independent review board, one where they're actually citizens as opposed to former police lieutenants and that sort of thing, you're not going to get much happening.
Thoko Moyo: This is probably an unfair question because you're not in the police force, but it would seem to me that if you were on the other side of the argument, you'd be saying, "What do citizens know about what it takes to police?" I mean how do you investigate a criminal act if you have never actually been in the police force? I mean I read, some time ago on some discussion board that was predominantly police officers or ex-police officers arguing for the choke hold, saying that, "This is something that we're trained to do because it's effective, so don't ban that, because you've never been a cop and, in a dangerous situation, this is something you need to do." I can imagine that, and I just want to put this out there that the counterargument would be a citizen investigating something that is a professional line of work and specialized might be difficult to do because you don't know what happened in that circumstance. I mean I don't know if either of you want to comment on that, but I just wanted to put that on the table.
Yanilda González: Yeah. I mean this is always an issue with policing even when you have not even investigation of cases of police misconduct but even just citizens being involved in any aspect of shaping policing. They often say, "Well, what do ordinary citizens have to say?" We have, actually, a lot of examples of this in the US starting with juries of citizens being called on to do precisely this, this kind of work to make these determinations of the law in which the vast majority of them and us are not trained in doing. I think that what I would say is that security provision is not only a context or a task that should be carried out by police and it is something that all of us should have a role in. I think that where we get into trouble, as societies, is when we say only police ought to have a say in what police are doing out in the streets where all of us are implicated and involved. I think that it's really important to respond to that argument with the contrary one that all of us have a stake and a role in the provision of security and that we ought to be involved in the determinations and, just as juries do, receive the necessary guidance and training to make those determinations. We don't shy away from having citizens judge these questions in cases of juries, and I don't think we should shy away from having citizens, and particularly just civilians, including many who do have specialized training, in being involved in these questions.
If I could just add to what Susan said about the importance of having true power, there is a great report by a police ombudsman in Sao Paulo when that office was created, and it's been a really transformative institution because it has created so much transparency. We know so much about how the police force in Sao Paulo exercises violence and violates many, many, many rights, including how that has changed over the years, which is something we don't really know very well for the US. In their first report, it was just like, "You know what? We've come all this way. We've done all this work, but transparency alone is not enough." I think that any kind of civilian entity absolutely needs to be equipped with the right authority to have real power.
Thoko Moyo: Terrific. Sandra, we interrupted you. You were giving us a list of some examples of things that could work, so why don't you continue on that?
Sandra Susan Smith: One of the things that I wanted to add to what Yanilda said was in response to your question about what do civilians know. I mean Yanilda's question is the gold standard. Here's my more silver or bronze, bronze-ish standard. What we know is that, in the same exact circumstances, police treat black folks, brown folks differently than they treat white folks. They're far more likely to use force in situations where the black and brown folks aren't doing anything than they are in cases with white folks and in cases where white folks are more, actually, likely to behave in an aggressive manner. They are far less likely to engage them or with force in situations like that than they are with black and brown people. I think, if you were to look at the evidence of how they're responding differently to the same kinds of acts and that we know, based on police's own reports of what they're doing, that they almost always respond more violently towards black and brown bodies than they do towards white bodies in the same situation. I don't need to be trained in police procedure. All I need to know is that, in the same situations, this is happening, and so that's what we want to eliminate. We want to eliminate this disparity in such a way that black and brown people are being treated with the same kind of respect, dignity, empathy as white folks are being treated. Because they don't seem to be able to police themselves in that way, I do think we need to put in place these independent bodies that can assess and mete out punishment for these kinds of acts. I just wanted to add that point.
The final thing that I was going to suggest that might help, at least in some way, is consistent with the recent calls for more data and recording practices that will also maximize accountability, transparency. Here again, because police departments often have full control over what data gets collected, who gets to see it under what circumstances, that becomes a problem. For me, a lot of what has to happen, even before moves towards data collection and oversight review boards, is actually, on some ways, to balance the power. Police cannot have the amount of power that they have to determine almost every aspect of processes that allow us to assess their behavior. Because they're public servants, I actually think it's completely reasonable to have this expectation in almost every way. I actually don't know of a way that I feel like it would be unreasonable to do this. Over the course of the last three, four decades, they've amassed a kind of power that means that they can protect the institution itself and members in it, which is why so few people get punished for the wrongdoings that they engage in.
Thoko Moyo: Yanilda, I have to bring you back in here to see if you have any additions that you might want to add to the types of reforms that you have seen work or that you think could work based on your research in Latin America, things that maybe could work here in the US.
Yanilda González: I mean I'm always such a pessimist with police reform, and I think we have to distinguish what works with what can last, what can actually endure without coming under the typical strain of police resistance and politicians' incentives to undermine police reform. I've seen really robust community participation happen in Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires Province in a way that actually shapes what police end up doing, so police forces being responsive to community needs with the support of a ministry of justice, a ministry of security that actually reinforces the things that they do. In Buenos Aires Province, citizens would draft crime maps in these community meetings, and those maps were then used by the ministry to evaluate police performance, and so it's not just police performance being judged by arrests or, very grimly as it was the case in many places in Brazil, by the number of killings. It was, "Are you responding to just sort of what citizens are asking you to do?"
The problem with that is that when such citizen participation is robust, police then end up resisting it to the point where they end up eliminating it or that we end up with a type of citizen that participates in these meetings that actually demand police repression, that they actually want the police to come in and remove people experiencing homelessness. They want police to come in and engage in all kinds of discriminatory types of policing. I think that policing itself is just highly fraught with reinforcing inequalities in society, and so that even the best types of reforms may fall prey to those types of inequalities or reinforcing social inequalities. I do think that having more and a more diverse type of citizen voice is essential. I would also say that, in terms of what works and what lasts, rather, are reforms that you incentivize police to see that certain things do benefit them.
Thoko Moyo: Isn't that what's at the core of the whole defund the police argument? I mean most people see that as saying dismantle the police, get rid of the police altogether. My understanding, and correct me if I'm wrong, is trying to find a way to improve policing by removing the things that police are not necessarily equipped to do or to do well. Is that what I'm hearing you say?
Yanilda González: I mean I think that's what I'm saying. I don't know about improving policing. I think it's, again, my pessimism about are we ever going to be a society that doesn't have police? I mean I think there's a lot of incredible visionary work by abolitionists that would say precisely that. I think my work makes me feel more pessimistic about that being a possibility in an unequal society such as ours. I do think that one way to offer more protection to affected communities and to, again, reduce the police's power is to do what I have said, is reduce its role in all these things because one of the things that I heard in my interviews was, when you've got the police in charge of everything and you're the mayor or you're the governor, you're the president, you're not going to want to antagonize that police force when they have their hands in so many things. If you reduce the things that police hands are in, you reduce their capacity to disrupt things. I think that police forces themselves, police leaders would say, "Yeah, we should not be doing the type of things for which we're not trained." I think that this is an area where I think many sides that may actually hold different types of opinions, like from the abolitionist perspective to people who just want safer, more competent policing, would agree that police involvement in all these areas of life ultimately cause more harm than good.
Thoko Moyo: We had thought that we could get to talking about the criminal justice system in the US, but we're definitely not going to be able to do justice to that in the time that we have, so Sandra, you're just going to have to come back to PolicyCast and talk to us about some of the work that you've been doing, particularly around pretrial detention. Before we wrap up, I guess the question that I must ask before we end is so what do you think? Given the moment that we're in right now in the US, what do you think policing and criminal justice, even though we didn't really touch on it in this particular conversation, what do you think it will look like post the moment that we're in in the US? Yanilda, why don't you go first?
Yanilda González: Well, I mean I think, again, my work here leads me to be more of a pessimist just seeing what happens after these transformative moments. I think Susan is far more qualified here to speak as to the moment of criminal justice reform that we have been living in for the last few years. I'm worried that the kind of consensus that saw everybody from the Koch brothers to the ACLU wanting some kind of criminal justice reform... I'm worried that, depending on how the election goes, we may see a return to the very punitive law and order, quote, unquote, law and order types of policies that we've seen in previous decades because what we saw in Latin America was a push for not only undoing police reforms but tougher sentencing, loosening the reins on protections for the accused. We have to pay attention to what the electoral incentives are and how moveable is public opinion on these questions because I'm afraid that, again, depending on how things turn out in the elections, there may be incentives for people to mobilize those who prefer more punitive types of policies and oppose anything that looks like reform that they, from their perspective, weakens the fight against crime.
Thoko Moyo: Sandra?
Sandra Susan Smith: I expect more of the same. I'm with Yanilda. I don't have much cause to be overly optimistic or optimistic. I think, in addition to the really incredible points that Yanilda has made, in the US, I think that there's another force that helps to block change. Here, I am going to draw from a recent op-ed in the New York Times from the former mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges. She wrote on this very topic soon after the murder of George Floyd. Just to read a segment, an excerpt from this essay, she says, "Whether we know it or not, white liberal people in blue cities implicitly ask police officers to politely stand guard in predominantly white parts of town where the downside of bad policing is usually inconvenience and to aggressively patrol the parts of town where people of color live, where the consequences of bad policing are fear, violent abuse, mass incarceration and, far too often, death. Underlying these requests are the flawed beliefs that aggressive patrolling of black communities provides a wall of protection around white people and their property."
What I think that we're up against is not just a fairly conservative block of folks who are embracing law and order, and want to quell, squash any kind of dissent. We actually also have kind of silent support among those folks who would present themselves as being fully in favor of progressive change. My sense is that what Former Mayor Hodges has argued is exactly what does also play out in these realms, and that also leads to a kind of complete blockage of real change. What, then, we do get are these reforms that nibble around the edges and we could say, "Hey, we've done something. Look, we've acted very quickly, and this should produce some change. Don't you see how much we're doing here?" but it actually doesn't produce any real change at all, and it certainly doesn't challenge any kind of hegemony or racial hierarchies. I expect to see more of the same until we get a real commitment from groups of people who, I think, have been, whether they realize it or not, fully committed to the status quo.
Thoko Moyo: Wonderful. Well, I can't thank you both enough for taking the time to talk to me today, so thank you so much.
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