Addressing the 'Us vs. Them'
Three UM-Dearborn Alternatives for Violent Force educators — a retired Michigan State Police chief, a Civil Rights specialist, and a Detroit community leader who's a member of the Detroit Police Department — weigh in on the global Black Lives Matter Movement and ways to address systemic racism.
Community leaders work with police officers in UM-Dearborn’s Alternatives to Violent Force (AVF) workshop series to address the police against community narrative, explore why it exists, and identify steps in improving community relationships.
Through these workshops, hundreds of officers have shared dialogue with AVF educators who are also Detroit community organization directors, former FBI agents, educators, civil rights advocates, licensed therapists, police chiefs and more. The seven-week Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (M-COLES)-certified program was first offered in 2017.
“The bottom line of all of the program’s principles is recognizing the sanctity of human life,” said UM-Dearborn Criminology and Criminal Justice Director Hon. Donald Shelton, a retired Washtenaw County Circuit Court judge who sat on the bench for nearly 25 years. “That is at the core of our discussions.”
In the weeks since George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, people have gathered to protest police brutality, stand in solidarity with Black community members, and examine ways that racism is woven into the fabric of society.
UM-Dearborn’s Reporter reached out to UM-Dearborn’s AVF educators to ask them what they are seeing in their roles and what actions may lead to lasting systemic change.
Name: Harold Love, Michigan State Police police captain (ret.); board-certified behavioral health counselor
Topic of AVF sessions: Law Enforcement Response to Persons with a Mental Illness, and Behavioral Health Issues in Law Enforcement
What do you talk about in your Behavioral Health Issues in Law Enforcement session?
The word ‘help’ is considered the dirtiest four-letter word within the law enforcement culture. The negative stigma associated with an officer asking for help when overwhelmed with stress and emotion contributes to an officer’s tendency to internalize the stress to a point that causes physical ailments and emotional dysfunction.
But help is needed. Law enforcement officers are exposed on a daily basis to incidents and situations that most members of the general public will not be exposed to in a lifetime. The daily exposure to critical / traumatic incident stress and the stressful nature of the job can wreak havoc on the personal lives of the law enforcement officer. If left unchecked, the stress can negatively affect the law enforcement officer’s personal relationships, interaction with citizens, behavior, attitude and overall wellness. We discuss what steps they can take to reclaim the fulfillment and quality of life they once knew and how this process can improve their overall job fulfilment, enabling them to more effectively serve the communities they work in.
So there needs to be change in law enforcement culture to better support officers. What’s another needed change?
To address racism in our society, criminal justice administrators need to acknowledge that law enforcement officers are an extension of local government and take a proactive approach to creating and facilitating opportunities for law enforcement officers and administrators to have positive interactions with members of the community. The only way for law enforcement personnel to increase their level of cultural competence within the communities they serve is to consistently interact with community members.
Increasing cultural competence and sensitivity promotes mutual understanding and trust, which is an essential element in a department’s ability to effectively serve the community. This effort has to be perpetual and transcend administrations and generations.
Name: Charles W. Schoder, ’14 M.P.A., Michigan Department of Civil Rights civil rights specialist
Topic of your AVF session: Sanctity of Life and the Policing Experience. “We need to understand that there is an advantage, personally and professionally, in seeing another as a person — even if they are a different person than you.”
What is one major change that’s needed to properly address racism in our society?
I believe we must shake the idea of a ‘zero-sum’ when it comes to building equitable community. One person does not have to lose something for another to have an opportunity at a full life. To the contrary, I believe we all lose with inequitable systems.
When you think of an urban community, several things are generally consistent: These areas are starved of economic opportunity, the education system is inadequate, they are heavily polluted, they lack grocery stores that provide nutritional foods, and they are typically a community of color as a majority. Conversely, a suburban community means the opposite in virtually every aspect and are often mostly White. We are not honoring our duty to treat each other as equal human beings where there is a system of disadvantage for some.
You are a white man. What have you learned about being an ally for the Black Lives Matter Movement?
Be open to hearing other people’s perspectives, truly listening to them. When you hear something that may offend you, do not close off and tune out. Instead, ask questions and strive for a deeper understanding. For example, people may shut down or be offended when they hear the term “White privilege.” White people may hear it as an insult, an accusation that you do not work hard for what you have in life. However, without denying your effort and struggles, consider it as the privilege to not have your race or ethnicity making it harder.
Name: Bishop Daryl Harris, Human Rights commissioner for the City of Detroit, CeaseFire faith-coordinator, Total Life Christian Ministries pastor
Topic of AVF session: Sanctity of Life and the Policing Experience
You work on Detroit’s East side. What are you seeing in your community?
The Black Lives Matter Movement has spread across the world after George Floyd’s murder and people are speaking out in Detroit too. I've worked with police and with protestors for the past few weeks. No one knew what to expect and a curfew was put in place to curb violence and property damage, but that was dismissed after Police Chief (James) Craig saw that demonstrations were peaceful. I’m not at liberty to speak on it in detail, but I will say difficult conversations are being had and it is recognized by the Detroit Police Department that a culture change mindset is needed. Even though the movement is still in the beginning stages, it’s having an effect.
Why do you think Detroit's protests have been peaceful in relation to other major areas?
Chief Craig has a record of holding officers accountable and is big on neighborhood policing, where an officer has a long-term assignment in a particular area to get to know the residents better and for the residents to get to know an officer. He knows it’s about seeing each other as human beings. Our police department is not perfect, but Detroit residents know Chief Craig calls it as he sees it and responds accordingly.
In my opinion, the Black Lives Matter Movement loses direction if we head into violence or destruction and our community knows this. The system’s injustices are deeply ingrained and there are people who want to burn it all down and start over, but that’s not what’s going to get us to our destination. Even though I don’t encourage rioting and it is not a long-term solution in my opinion, it is important to note that it did take the threat of the world burning to draw attention to George Floyd’s death and police brutality that Black and Brown people experience.
If the goal is truly equity, we need to think bigger than our personal experiences and focus on the direction of the Movement. If you talk to 10 Black people, you will get 10 different experiences and all may have a very valid point of view or argument — but if we focus on our personal struggles and not the collective one, long-term change will not come.
You are in a unique situation — you are a Detroit community leader and an honorary member of the Detroit Police Department. You even have a badge. For people who might not understand, can you give a Black perspective on interaction with law enforcement?
Well, I can tell you it was a bit shocking to see protestors storm the State Capitol over the governor's emergency order. White men holding rifles, no masks and yelling in the faces of law enforcement in a government building while officials were inside. Speaking with other Black members in my community, we had a similar thought: ‘Wait, you can do that and live?’ It reinforces some of the experiences we’ve had with law enforcement on being treated differently because of the color of our skin.
And can you give a perspective of what it’s like to be an officer in your community?
It can seem very us vs. them on both sides. As soon as I got my Detroit Police Department badge, I had cousins who didn’t want me invited to family gatherings. Not because of who I was as a person, but because family members had negative interactions with police and it was seen that I chose to be a part of the police community. My goal is to remove the idea of separate communities, like police and citizens, and help create one community that we all happen to live within.
So how does that happen?
You need to recognize that there are bad actors in every community. And instead of trying to imprison them or defund them, try to connect them to help because they are part of your community. That doesn’t mean they shouldn't be held accountable. People need to take responsibility for their actions. But, at the same time, our community needs to do more than expel someone who does wrong. Human beings are not trash. But sometimes they are broken through trauma and need to be restored.
If you have questions about UM-Dearborn’s AVF workshop series or if you would like to enroll your officers in a future session, please contact Professor Paul Draus, director of the Graduate Program in Criminology and Criminal Justice.