Five Things President Obama Could Do to Stop the Killing

By Gordon Whitman, Deputy Director, PICO National Network

If my son - who is 14 years old, has Autism and is hearing impaired - were African-American I would be worried every time he left the house to walk to school or the library, worried that he'd have a failed encounter with a teacher, school administrator or police officer that would result in him being hurt, psychologically or physically.

That anxiety - which I know many parents of African-American and Latino children have - is by no means irrational. Whites bring a host of unthinking stereotypes into their encounters with African-Americans, including over-estimating the age of African-American boys by as much as 4-5 years, according to path breaking research on racial bias.

Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff and his colleagues have tested police officers for their tendency to not only mistakenly see African-American youngsters as adults, but to also implicitly associate them with animals - a sad but common psychological tendency for White people (note Officer Darren Wilson's description of Michael Brown as a "demon"). Researchers found that officers who show a greater tendency to dehumanize African-Americans in widely used psychological questionnaires, are more likely to have used force (defined as "takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing") against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks.

What is important about these findings is that they focus on implicit - unthinking - bias rather than the racist animus that people tend to associate with racism. Implicit bias influences the snap judgments people make without stopping and thinking. It is often more dangerous than explicitly racist behavior. For example, in simulations of potential threat situations, White police officers who were not trained specifically to understand and adjust for implicit bias, were more likely to make split-second decisions to shoot African-Americans who are unarmed than Whites holding guns.

The consequences of implicit bias are devastating. Young African-American males are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young White men. Twenty-one times!

The young people who have sustained three months of protests in St. Louis County against the killing of Michael Brown have given the country a great gift by focusing our collective attention on this epidemic. Protests against police abuse are spreading across the country. Police killings that would have been ignored six months ago are ending up on the front page of newspapers.

We are at a watershed moment in the battle against racial profiling. We have much to do to achieve racial equity and healing in America - a long agenda of changes in our economy, schools and political system - but we have the power now to end the epidemic of police killings of people of color. We know how to systematically reduce implicit bias in police departments and to break the link between stereotypes held by police officers, and use of excessive force against African-Americans and Latinos. Indeed, there are police departments that have sharply reduced officer-involved shootings by using research-based practices.

Here are five things that President Obama could do right now to end the epidemic in 2015 and create a level of security and peace of mind for young people and their families.

1. Mandatory reporting

The Department of Justice collects reams of data from local law enforcement agencies, but does not require that they submit data on incidents where police officers shoot people. Of the 17,000 police departments in the country, only 750 self-report data to the federal government. Step number one in ending the epidemic is for President Obama to require all law enforcement agencies to report on police shootings. That in turn will help the Department of Justice and the public determine which police departments have the greatest problems.

2. Withholding federal funding from police departments with poor records

The President should issue an executive order requiring that Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security withhold federal funding from local police departments that either do not report data on police shootings, have high rates of excessive force or engage in racial profiling. The Federal Government provides billions of dollars in funding and equipment to local police departments. It should condition this support on their willingness to train and hold officers accountable for not engaging in racial profiling.

3. Body cameras

Michael Brown's family has called for all police officers in America to be equipped with body-worn video cameras. Research shows that these cameras have a dramatic impact on reducing use of force by police officers and civilian complaints against officers. One study found a 50 percent reduction in use of force and a 90 percent reduction in citizen complaints.

4. Training in Implicit Bias

The Center for Policing Equity and other organizations work with police departments to reduce the impact of bias on policing. It turns out that implicit bias can be tamped down or even eliminated if we are willing to take it seriously. When people are made to be conscious of how implicit bias influences their behavior, and when they take the time to build relationships with people who are of different races, they become less biased. We should make training in implicit bias and policing a mandatory requirement for all police departments.

5. Ceasefire violence prevention

As we work to reduce police use of excessive force and killings, we also need to make sure that police departments are using best practices to reduce all gun violence in communities. As with excessive use of force by police, we have ample evidence that police departments can bring down rates of gun violence throughout a community, by applying research-based practices.

For example, the Boston Ceasefire program has had a significant impact on reducing gun violence in cities across the U.S. This program focuses policing on the small number of people in a community responsible for most of the violence, gives them a choice of getting off the street and into jobs, and engages clergy and other community leaders in establishing norms against violence through night walks and trained anti-violence street workers.

Ultimately, we know what to do. Whether we act is a moral test of the value we place on Black lives.

October 24, 2019

Reflections from Philanthropy Forward's First Cohort

Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change is a CEO fellowship program created by Neighborhood Funders Group and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. The program's first cohort started in October 2018 in furtherance of building and advancing a shared vision for the future of philanthropy.

Hear perspectives from members of the first cohort as they reflect in this video on their work together as strategic thought partners, addressing philanthropy's most challenging issues and aligning to build a financial engine for social change.

2018 - 2019 Philanthropy Forward Cohort

A grid with individual photos of each of the 20 members of Philanthropy Forward's 2018-2918 cohort..

Click here for participant bios

  • Dimple Abichandani, General Service Foundation
  • Sharon Alpert, Nathan Cummings Foundation
  • Elizabeth Barajas-Roman, Solidago Foundation
  • Ned Calonge, The Colorado Trust
  • Irene Cooper-Basch, Victoria Foundation
  • Farhad A. Ebrahimi, The Chorus Foundation
  • Nicky Goren, Meyer Foundation
  • Justin Maxson, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation
  • Joan Minieri, Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock
  • Maria Mottola, New York Foundation
  • Mike Pratt, Scherman Foundation
  • Jocelyn Sargent, Hyams Foundation
  • Pamela Shifman, NoVo Foundation
  • Starsky D. Wilson, Deaconess Foundation
  • Steve Patrick, Aspen Institute Forum for Community solutions
  • Dennis Quirin, Raikes Foundation
September 10, 2019

For Love of Humankind: A Call to Action for Southern Philanthropy

Justin Maxson, Executive Director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, calls on fellow funding organizations based in the South to respond to the federal government's anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies with three concrete actions. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Justin was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, which strives to help people and places move out of poverty and achieve greater social and economic justice, is a member of NFG.


 

Justin MaxsonWe are issuing a clarion call to Southern philanthropic organizations to respond to the manic drumbeat of anti-immigrant rhetoric and cruelty coming from the White House. This month began with a mass shooting targeting the Latinx community. Days later, massive raids tore apart hundreds of families and destabilized Mississippi communities but levied no consequences for the corporate leadership that lures vulnerable people to work in grueling, dangerous conditions. It is astounding that since those events, with the resulting fear and trauma still reverberating through immigrant communities across America, the administration has: 

  • repeated its intention to end birthright citizenship, a 14th Amendment guarantee that babies born on American soil are citizens. 
  • attempted to terminate the Flores Agreement, which sets standards for the care of children in custody. This would allow the administration to detain migrant families indefinitely in facilities where children are dying of influenza, yet flu shots are not administrated, where children are sexually assaulted, where soap, toothbrushes, human contact and play are not standard, and where breastfeeding babies are taken from their mothers. Child separation is known to cause permanent psychological trauma and brain damage.
  • announced changes to the so-called “public charge rule” to make it harder for legal immigrants to secure citizenship if they use public assistance. As our partners at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argue, this change would cause many to “forgo assistance altogether, resulting in more economic insecurity and hardship, with long-term negative consequences, particularly for children.” Further, the decision “rests on the erroneous assumption that immigrants currently of modest means are harmful to our nation and our economy, devaluing their work and contributions and discounting the upward mobility immigrant families demonstrate.”

There was also a recent effort to effectively end asylum altogether at the southern border. And despite the Supreme Court ruling blocking the citizenship question from the 2020 census, advocates believe the debate will depress response rates. As we wrote earlier this month, this administration’s animus against immigrants and increasingly aggressive ICE actions are compounding the devastating effects on communities across the country. 

Why Southern philanthropy? 

An analysis of recent grantmaking by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy found our region has deportation rates five times higher than the rest of the country, yet Southern pro-immigrant organizations receive paltry philanthropic funding. Barely one percent of all money granted by the 1,000 largest foundations benefits immigrants and refugees, and even that money doesn’t go to state and local groups that are accountable to grassroots and immigrant communities. Organizations in Southern states receive less than half of the state and local funding of California, New York and Illinois. 

Where to begin? 

Speak up. As Desmund Tutu taught us, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Use your institutional voice to influence decisionmakers.

Examine your foundation’s policies. Find out if your endowment is invested in private detention centers. Consider how supporting organizing, power building and policy advocacy could advance your mission. NCRP has more recommendations in its report.

Give generously. Our partners at Hispanics in Philanthropy have curated a list of organizations helping the families affected by the raids across Mississippi. Our partners at Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees have compiled a list of ways to help, from rapid response grants to long-term strategies. 

Many of the Babcock Foundation’s grantee partners are doing more and more immediate protection work, stretching themselves thin and often putting themselves at risk. They are keeping families intact in the short term while building power for the long term, so history will stop repeating: 

If you know of more resources, please share them. If you’d like to learn more about the organizations on the ground across the South – or think about ways we can do more together – contact us. We are always looking to learn and act in alignment with our fellow funders toward a shared vision of a strong, safe, welcoming and equitable region. 

Activist Jane Addams said, “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us.” Regardless of a foundation’s mission, abject cruelty surely undermines it. It also undermines the most basic tenet of philanthropy, which literally means “love for humankind.” We see no love in this administration. It’s up to all of us to spread it.