This week, the Police Advisory Commission released its report on the Philadelphia Police Department's arrest of two black men at a Starbucks in April. The responses to this report have been thought-provoking and demonstrate the need for an ongoing community conversation in which bias is distinguished from racism. Similarly, the importance of antiracist training and practice must be underscored.
As there is no universally agreed upon definition of terms, and consumers of the report are using their own definition of certain key terms, I'd like to share the following glossary that the PAC used for this report and will use for future conversations on this topic.
Implicit Bias: Unconscious prejudices or stereotypes that can guide a person's actions, decisions, and assessments in a positive or negative way. This bias is involuntary and is neither intentional nor easily controlled.
Racism: A set of systemic and institutional conditions that cause inequality based on race. It is also an ideology that minority racial groups are biologically or culturally inferior to the dominant racial group. Racism often includes how these beliefs are deployed to recommend and legitimize discriminatory treatment of minority groups and/or to justify their lower status.
White Supremacy: A political and/or socioeconomic system where white people enjoy a structural advantage, preference, or privilege over minority groups, both at a collective and an individual level.
Antiracist: A concerted effort to understand racism, especially the history of white supremacy in the United States, and actively work to oppose and undo racism.
The divisive and complicated history of racism in the country and city is not something the PAC pretends to be able to solve on our own. However, as a foundational element of the Starbucks incident, and many other incidents, it must be addressed.
The PAC focuses on the Philadelphia Police Department, but instances of bias and racism permeate all aspects of our society. Given the power police officers wield, they must be held to a higher standard of scrutiny. The PAC takes pride in these efforts and will continue working with the police and the community regarding the many issues that might affect their relationship.
A conversation about racism does not suggest that the police are akin to a hate group or that they do no good. In fact, the PAC acknowledges that the Police Department strives to do good and to serve Philadelphians on a daily basis.
Further, the call for antiracist training and practice for the police does not suggest that they are the only public servants who could benefit from strengthening antiracist knowledge and practice. Indeed, all professions who deal with or have power over the public, such as social workers, teachers, doctors, and lawyers, should consider this type of training. Incorporating antiracist reflection, training, and conversations into operations and staff development can lead to greater understanding on how success and disparity are connected to race – that who we are born to can have a significant, disparate influence on what we must do to become what we aspire to.
Antiracist training also explores how being a black or brown person has historically been a disadvantage. Training designed for police officers will emphasize the historical role of police in perpetuating that disadvantage. The training will discuss how this disadvantage can lead and has led to other disadvantages, such as failing schools and intergenerational poverty.
A training and practice model that connects seemingly separate social problems will be impactful because the Philadelphia Police Department already buys into this notion. Department leadership often discusses the link between crime and poverty. Accepting this notion and the link among race, educational attainment, and socioeconomic status is a step toward accepting the role of systemic racism in police contact with citizens, even if that contact is legitimate and must occur. In the interest of true justice, we must work toward identifying methods to monitor, limit, and dismantle systemic racism.
Hans Menos is the executive director of Philadelphia's Police Advisory Commission.