Cross-posted from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership
“Are they going to kill me?”
That’s the question a young black boy asked me one afternoon when I accidentally bumped into him and his grandmother on West Florissant Avenue, in Ferguson, after Michael Brown’s death. He was pointing at two officers watching peaceful protestors. I said, “No, little man, you’ll be okay,” but as I walked away, I wondered if he would be okay, if our country would be okay.
In the last two weeks several important reports have been issued: a new interim report from the White House’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing; the Justice Department’s final report on Ferguson; and the Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets Summit convened by the US Department of Transportation. What intrigues me the most is how all three merge community, access, and safety. For those in the built environment advocacy space, this is a clear time to pay attention.
The role of place and mobility is gaining traction in the national discourse on policing and people of color. The 21st Century Policing Task Force’s interim report contains specific recommendations that identify proper policing as an imperative aspect of true community building. Whether it’s creating opportunities in schools and communities for positive interactions with police outside the context of enforcement, collaborating with community members to develop policies and strategies in neighborhoods disproportionately affected by crime, working with neighborhood residents on public safety, or encouraging communities to adopt policies and programs that address the needs of children and youth most at risk of experiencing crime and violence, safety and health are at the forefront.
As the recommendations from these efforts make clear, communal buy-in is critical for safe environments. The recommendations speak to equitable place-making, safe and healthy mobility, and the key role of community leaders and guardians. All of these recommendations are not separate unto their own, but are integral in the rebuilding of neighborhoods all over the country. As F.B.I. director James B. Comey candidly stated in February on the difficult relationship between the police and communities of color, “We all need to talk, and we all need to listen, not just easy things, but about hard things, too.”
The fact is, policing matters when it comes to whether or not residents in a neighborhood can freely and safely use their mobility choice to access their homes, schools, supermarkets, green spaces, and jobs. All over the country, there are significant disparities in enforcement that inhibit equitable community building.