The 12th annual Urban Poverty Forum brought fresh compelling perspectives on police de-escalation tactics. It was all about “the talk.”
The organizers of the event wanted to facilitate a conversation about better police de-escalation training and for equity for all.
One possible change could come through Initiative 940, a statewide ballot item that calls for de-escalation training for police officers. Some panelists stressed that change happens when American society acknowledges its ugly history, is accountable for it, and then moves forward from there.
The Urban Poverty Forum is an annual panel discussion hosted by Real Change and Town Hall.
Three speakers shared their stories: Felicia Cross, who has extensive background in health care and advocacy and is the newly appointed East Precinct crime prevention coordinator; Erin Jones, the first Black woman to run for statewide office as well as having years of experience in education, earning her the honor of being named Champion of Change by President Barack Obama; and Rev. Harriett Walden, who is the founding director of Family Empowerment Institute in Seattle and has spent decades being a vocal advocate for peace since co-founding Mothers for Police Accountability in 1990.
“It’s easy to say ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Walden said, adding that people would be willing to wear a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt but not confront their uncle who tells a racists joke at Thanksgiving.
Walden explained that the inequality is rooted from the outdated culture to which the United States clings. She emphasized that non-Black people need to educate and correct themselves, because it is not her job to “teach White people.”
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Jones was born in the United States, but relocated with her White parents to Norway after being adopted by them. Growing up as a Black woman in a European country, she never feared the police. She could not imagine having an altercation with police in Europe, so when she moved to study in the United States, she felt a “rude awakening.”
Her parents gave her a lot of literature to read about American Black history, and she learned what life was like during the civil rights movement and the ’80s and ’90s through movies. “The Bill Cosby Show” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” painted the picture she had of the United States before coming here. The culture shock was so extreme to her that she almost killed herself during her freshman year of college. Back then, communicating overseas was difficult, as there was no internet, and international phone calls were $5 a minute. She could not call home, and she felt she was being treated as less than human.
“There were all kinds of dynamics around how people thought about girls like me,” Jones said, speaking about how her parents could not prepare her for that type of an environment as they were from Minnesota, which does not have a large Black population. “I didn’t have any warning about any of that.”
The talk is a conversation that no parent wants to have, but is forced to: a talk about what to do and what not to do when they are encountered by police; a talk about what could happen even if they did everything right. Avoiding it is not an option for Black families.
Cross’ No. 1 rule is respectful dialogue. Outside of the family talk, she talks about fostering a strong youth to heal the system from the inside and encourages Black people to become police officers.
“As far as reform, I would be all over for starting up mentoring programs,” Cross said, “to encourage our young Black men not to talk against the police but to show them how powerful and what it could mean for them to just take into consideration the change they can make.”
People advocated for Initiative 940 during the event. The Mahogany Project amplified its importance in a performance. They said half of victims killed by police have mental illnesses or other conditions. Initiative 940, if instated, would require police officers to undergo training to approach any situation mindfully.
“I feel the weight of it,” said Arika Gloud, who is one of the performers. “It’s acting but it’s not really acting. The subject is so important that it’s easy to [act it out with raw] emotion.”
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