AFSC and the Seattle Police: Undoing institutional racism from within
Strained and sometimes antagonistic relationships between police and communities of color in Seattle have led to the disproportionate incarceration of youth of color—and ugly, racially charged incidents have been caught on tape.
AFSC’s Seattle Community Justice Program is coming at the problem from several angles, all with the ultimate goal of having officers themselves dismantle racism within the Seattle Police Department.
“How do we change relationships so the police care about our communities and see that we need to support our young people instead of lock them up?” asks Dustin Washington, program director. “We want to speak truth to power and push the police to do better. And we want them to make changes from within.”
Among the program’s main tools are the Undoing Institutional Racism trainings presented in conjunction with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, a national group that focuses on achieving equity and equality across all cultures and races. Members of the police force have regularly attended the workshops, which are open to the public. In addition, AFSC recently organized two anti-racism forums that specifically addressed the tensions between police and youth of color.
Young people and police officers will also engage in more intensive dialogues around racism during AFSC’s upcoming Freedom School, which helps young people to learn about social justice and the history of activism as well as to explore civic engagement.
“We hope that out of that will come new possibilities to improve relations,” Washington says.
Two other strands of work aim to help police and the communities they serve heal in healthy ways. In one, AFSC is organizing secondary-trauma trainings so that police learn to deal with the extreme stresses they experience on the job. In another, AFSC is organizing sessions between police and the Black Prisoners’ Caucus at Monroe State Prison in an effort to start breaking down hostilities.
Washington knows there’s much work to be done, but he says that he’s encouraged by the steps that have been taken so far.
“What I would hold up now—the success story—is that officers are engaging in these conversations,” Washington says. “We’re not in the Promised Land yet, but the fact that we’re able to do this work at all is powerful.”