Concrete Changes Just for starters, we can acknowledge that Black Lives Matter is more than a hashtag.Down arrow

YES! photo by Kristin Little

Part One

Black Lives Matter Too bad we have to say it, but it’s bringing people together.

Portrait of Alicia Garza.

Alicia Garza. YES! photos by Kristin Little

Following the police killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, TIME Magazine hit newsstands with a cover dominated by large, block letters: “Black Lives Matter.” #BlackLivesMatter has infiltrated America’s modern vocabulary. It’s the rallying cry for a movement that began getting a lot of national attention after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Liz Pleasant

Liz Pleasant is an editorial assistant at YES! Follow her on Twitter @lizpleasant.

But #BlackLivesMatter began before Ferguson.

When George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges after killing Trayvon Martin, Alicia Garza of Oakland, California, turned to Facebook to express her anger and sadness. As a longtime social activist, Garza, who is now 34 years old, had been working for years to end systemic racism. She had led activist movements in the San Francisco Bay Area, from efforts to expose and end police violence to actions to secure free public transportation for youth. Currently, Garza is the special project director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, where she works to protect the rights of black women employed in positions like housekeeping, childcare, and in-home aid.

Garza says that the moment she logged onto social media after the announcement of the Zimmerman verdict was eye-opening. She was bombarded with defeatist comments like “What did you expect?” or “I knew they would never convict him.” Overwhelmingly, these comments all pointed out the same thing: It’s treated as acceptable for unarmed black boys and men to be killed without consequence.

Garza knew that the criminal justice system was not going to address this problem. To fill that void, she and her friends Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi founded #BlackLivesMatter to spark nationwide discussion of the way black lives are consistently undervalued in America and what people can do to change that. “We really felt like there needed to be a space that people could relate to that didn’t blame black people for conditions we didn’t create,” explains Garza.

“When we began, #BlackLivesMatter was a series of social media platforms that connected people online to take action together offline,” says Garza. At the time, the three women were involved in Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD). Access to that national network helped their message spread quickly, and soon activist organizations across the country were using #BlackLivesMatter to shine light on underreported incidents of black people being attacked or killed by police.


Photographed with Alicia Garza are members of the Bay Area chapter of #BlackLivesMatter and the “Black Friday 14”—protesters arrested on Nov. 28 for shutting down the West Oakland BART Station and four of five transit lines for three hours to protest the killing of unarmed black men by police officers.

Now, more than three years after the death of Trayvon Martin, the phrase has become a rallying cry for a new wave of resistance in places like Ferguson; Staten Island, New York; and Baltimore, after the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray. And it’s more than a hashtag—it’s a civil rights movement.

#BlackLivesMatter has inspired important in-person gatherings and conversations around race, prejudice, and police brutality across the country. Garza saw some of those conversations firsthand when she traveled to Ferguson as a participant in the Black Lives Matter Ride.

The ride, largely coordinated by Cullors and fellow activist Darnell L. Moore, was an effort that got more than 500 black folks from across the country to Ferguson through organized transportation and lodging. Once they arrived, participants offered their skills and expertise to the cause, including medical aid, legal assistance, and advice and support for the new group of organizers developing in the wake of Michael Brown’s death.

“It was incredible,” says Garza. “Black people of all stripes coming together to love on one another, committed to our collective transformation.”

One reason the reach of #BlackLivesMatter has spread so far is that it’s more inclusive than traditional civil rights movements. “Our diversity in leadership is an important component,”says Garza. “We have diverged from a model that is about following one charismatic leader, usually a man who is straight.”

Leaders of the movement include, for example, many black, queer women. In part because of that diversity, #BlackLivesMatter is changing the landscape of the modern black civil rights movement in America. It has brought people together who have traditionally been hard to get on the same page.

There are elders, mothers and their children, queer people, and straight people, all united around this movement and determined to bring black lives to the center of the conversation and demand that black voices be heard. “Love is what sustains us through all the hardships that come with this work. Even love for people who disagree,” says Garza. “Love is what will ultimately get us to a place where we can change the world we live in.”

Everybody is gathering around one basic concept: #BlackLivesMatter. All of them. And whether it’s in our small, daily interactions or by our biggest governmental institutions, every life should be valued.

“Love is what sustains us through all the hardships that come with this work. Even love for people who disagree. Love is what will ultimately get us to a place where we can change the world we live in.” – Alicia Graza

Although her work requires her to travel often, Garza says her local #BlackLivesMatter chapter in Oakland still feels like home. Twice a month, the group meets to organize around topics like political education, faith and spirituality, long-term movement strategy, and direct action plans.

“It’s such an incredibly beautiful space to see emerging leaders and seasoned leaders supporting and nurturing one another,” says Garza. “And to see blackness celebrated and valued.”

The story of this movement’s inception is proof that their mission is possible. Three years ago a group of friends got together to share their grief and frustration. Now, they’ve sparked a national conversation about racism and unlawful police force and inspired people across the country to stand up and fight against injustice.

“It’s really special to me that if I’m wearing my #BlackLivesMatter shirt, brothers on the corner ask me how they can be involved,” says Garza. “I’ve been praying for a moment like this one my entire life.”

Liz Pleasant

Liz Pleasant is an editorial assistant at YES! Follow her on Twitter @lizpleasant.

Part Two

The Moral Case for Reparations Righteous Debt

“And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day.” – Deuteronomy 15: 13–15

Slave section of East Hill Cemetery.

Slave section of East Hill Cemetery, Bristol, Virginia. Photo by Brock Royston

Hanging in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is an indelible, haunting painting. It’s a maritime scene: a yellow sun setting above a blood-red sky while hurtling, unruly waves carry an 18th century ship. These elements don’t stir an emotional response, but the foreground does. Among the flotsam are shackles, limbs reaching out from beneath the water, forms of human beings struggling for survival. This is no accident. These remnants are of kidnapped slaves—cruelly thrown off the ship, left to the elements to suffer an ignoble death, brutally rendered in J.M.W. Turner’s masterpiece “The Slave Ship.”

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the executive director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek, the founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, and the author of seven books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.

Like the provenance of the Turner work, American slavery’s origins can be accurately traced. An estimated 10 to 12 million kidnapped Africans were transported and shipped via the “Middle Passage” to the New World. About 4 million slaves were sent to the American colonies from the late 15th through the early part of the 19th century. With a conservative estimate that 1 to 2 million died on the ships, conditions on board are inconceivable to conjure: dignity stripped as humans were chained together, packed tight as if ordinary chattel. Disease was commonplace, the dead and dying (indeed, some of the living) thrown overboard. Only about 400,000 of the millions of kidnapped Africans ultimately landed in North America (millions went to Brazil), but the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade had a profound impact on the developing American colonies. By the early 1700s, for example, the population of slaves in South Carolina outnumbered the number of free people.

When we’re faced with an image like this one, we are reminded of the barbaric past that influences race relations in the United States today. Could this have been simple greed? Or something more pernicious? Though we are centuries removed from these practices, we are still coming to terms with their legacy. Today, a critical question remains for everyone who enjoys living in a free America: What is my debt to those who involuntarily suffered in the name of liberty and democracy?

This is a difficult question to reconcile. Yet it’s clear that the trauma of slavery continues to impact the contemporary American psyche. It is simply not enough to claim an absolution of blame simply because centuries have passed and society has progressed. Even the election of the first black president, while admirable, is only a single step in the right direction. To be truly accountable, forward-thinking citizens of a liberty-loving nation, we must rectify these inequities. We need reparations.

All too easily, the concept of reparations can be dismissed as a fanciful notion or anti-American. But look at what is happening: America has never addressed past debts in a satisfactory manner, and the strange fruit of our reticence is injurious, de facto discrimination. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and the ensuing strife in Staten Island, Ferguson, and Baltimore are just a few of the examples.

Looking below the surface, the economic disequilibrium between whites and blacks is stark. The lack of wealth and economic power in the black community is linked to racial injustices, both obvious and subtle, motivated by unconscious bias. We need a shift in American moral thinking.

There have long been efforts to bring reparations into focus, but it is a difficult and unpleasant task. This is why the conversation around reparations has to be altered substantially. In Jewish religious and philosophical thought, there is a framework that addresses the concept of not being excused from past debts. Reparations are not punitive; they’re restorative. This idea is mirrored by Professor Mary Frances Berry of the University of Pennsylvania in her call for reparations. “Reparations for unpaid labor are restitution,”” she says. As the leading advocate for a proposed “reparation superfund,” Berry calls for “payment for damages to make whole for harm done.” She goes on: “No restrictions should be made on how the money is spent. If their ancestors had received wages for their labor, they too would have bought what they wanted, invested it as they desired, or given it to churches or schools or charities.”

There are historical precedents for making reparations. One of the most notable is how Germany acts decades after the events of the Shoah, the Holocaust. Even though German society has evolved considerably and is far removed from those dark events, there is still a desire to show a deep sense of contrition for the evil deeds performed in the name of the nation. Not so long ago, the American government under President Ronald Reagan apologized and gave some compensation to Japanese individuals and their families forced to suffer imprisonment during World War II.

Reparations for slavery are a means to a more just society, not an end to attain absolution. Should we continue to ignore the original turpitude of our founding generations, then we remain complicit. As a Jewish educator, I teach the importance of practicing not only empathy but also action to liberate the enslaved and formerly enslaved. Reparations are our moral responsibility. We must fashion a society that reflects the justice we want to see in the world.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the executive director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek, the founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, and the author of seven books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.

Part Three

Founded on Genocide Two universities are answering for their founder’s role in the Sand Creek Massacre

The Sandcreek Massacre

“The Sand Creek Massacre” by Robert Lindneaux portrays his concept of the assault on the peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho village by the U.S. Army. Provided by History Colorado

November 29, 2014, was the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, one of the most violent days in American Indian history. On that fateful morning, a force of American cavalry officers, led by Colonel John Chivington, and settler militia forces mounted an attack in southeastern Colorado. Through the day, into the night, and again the next morning, nearly 700 soldiers raped, mutilated, and killed peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians allied under the leadership of Black Kettle. Accounts at the time noted the brutality of the attack, with soldiers taking scalps and body parts as trophies. At least 163 community members perished, accelerating a process of ethnic cleansing that ultimately cleared all equestrian Indians from the eastern half of the state. A territory that held few English-speaking communities in 1850 would, by 1870, become dominated by them.

Ned Blackhawk

Ned Blackhawk is a professor of history and American studies at Yale University. He is the author of “Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West.”

In the lead-up to the 150th anniversary, both Northwestern University and the University of Denver issued detailed reports on Sand Creek. Those investigations were inspired by the demands of students and community members that the universities examine the role of John Evans, Colorado’s second governor. Evans helped found Northwestern before moving to Colorado, where he subsequently founded the University of Denver.

Evans had ordered the recruitment of his territory’s volunteer militia and had fanned the flames of racial hatred in the region beforehand. A Methodist doctor from Illinois, Evans became territorial governor shortly after the election of his close friend Abraham Lincoln, whose administration worked to expand the Republican Party’s influence in the West. Evans had hoped to bring the Colorado Territory into the Union as a free state, and the University of Denver became one of the first universities established in the West. His name figures prominently across each institution as well as their respective metropolitan areas. Northwestern has the John Evans Alumni Center. Endowed professorships carry his name. Evanston, Illinois, home of Northwestern, as well as Colorado’s Mt. Evans are named after him.

Both universities lack Native American Studies programs, which may partly explain why they were so unprepared for student and community concerns. Neither institution had ever recognized Evans’ involvement with the massacre. University leaders were unaware of their founder’s ties to Native American massacre and dispossession, and few American Indian history or studies courses have ever been offered at either school.

Related: Firsthand account of the Sand Creek Massacre

The National Park Service has declared the massacre site a National Historic Site, and tribal members from across the West have long participated in annual commemorative runs to honor and remember those lost. As the state of Colorado formed the Colorado Sand Creek Massacre Commemorative Commission, students, faculty, alumni, and community members asked how their universities could not know about, let alone acknowledge, their founder’s connections to such potentially genocidal actions?

The appalling actions of the past appeared mirrored in the present by the shocking underrepresentation of Native American students, staff, and faculty on both campuses. Native American students and faculty comprise less than one-half of 1 percent of the Northwestern campus community, although Chicago is home to tens of thousands of tribal members. Both Chicago and Denver have decades-old Indian communities and have attracted Native people for generations. Each served as a major urban relocation center for government programs that subsidized the one-way migration of reservation community members to urban areas as part of the U.S. Termination policy. Prominent community centers, pan-Indian associations, and annual powwows, including the Denver March Powwow, are located in each.

In response to the protests, administrators on both campuses established review committees that exposed the deep moral culpability of Evans’ actions. While he was out of the state at the time of the massacre, Evans had both authorized and encouraged settlers to “kill and destroy” Plains Indian communities, had pleaded for increased military units, and, as the region’s foremost state leader, had fatefully informed Cheyenne leaders that retribution for summer raids was forthcoming. A subsequent committee at Northwestern attempted to outline institutional remedies aimed at commemorating the victims of the massacre. In addition, each university committed to increase recruitment, retention, and advancement of Native students and faculty. These processes continue, as do discussions about how best to commemorate the Sand Creek atrocities. Inviting prominent speakers, suggested freshman common readings, and preliminary commitments to build centers for Native American Studies characterize such efforts. The institutional commitment needed to maintain these undertakings, however, is unclear.

Nationally, Indian students and community members have worked to commemorate the legacies of the massacre as well as to recognize the larger history of atrocities against Native peoples. Throughout November, Native American community members held vigils and observed moments of silence to commemorate these atrocities. Such events, social media campaigns, newspaper editorials, and related activism brought heightened attention to the subject. On December 10, 2014, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago City Council passed a resolution recognizing the city’s place in the massacre, sending notice to the board of trustees at each campus. The resolution drew upon both universities’ committee reports, as well as historic coverage from the Chicago Tribune which noted 150 years ago the acts of “hideous cruelty” that occurred during the massacre. Acknowledging as well the “genocidal mission” of Chivington, the resolution states, “we, the Mayor, and members of the Chicago City Council … do hereby reflect upon that day of sorrow and extend our deepest regrets and sympathies to the descendants of the men, women, and children slain at Sand Creek.”

Such efforts of commemoration begin a process of acknowledgement and recognition, but are by themselves insufficient for a full reckoning of the legacies of U.S. state violence against Indian communities. Sand Creek is seared into the cultural heritage of Cheyenne and Arapaho communities and into the regional as well as institutional identities of these universities. While astonishing, the historical amnesia surrounding the racial hatred and violent practices of U.S. leaders remains comparatively insignificant in the face of the incalculable losses of life, land, and possibilities on that fateful day.

Ned Blackhawk

Ned Blackhawk is a professor of History and American Studies at Yale University. He is the author of “Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West.”

Sand Creek Massacre

On September 28, 1864 Cheyenne Chiefs Black Kettle and White Antelope met in council with Colorado Governor John Evans.

In 1864, Cheyenne Chiefs Black Kettle (behind kneeling soldier with hat) and White Antelope, with other Cheyenne and Arapaho, met in council with Colorado Governor John Evans and Colonel John Chivington. Library of Congress

Little Bear.

Photographed in 1891 in Washington, D.C., Little Bear barely survived the Sand Creek Massacre. Note the federally issued peace medal hanging from his neck. Library of Congress

A depiction of one scene at Sand Creek.

A depiction of one scene at Sand Creek by witness Howling Wolf. Public domain

Howling Wolf.

Howling Wolf (Cheyenne: Ho-na-nist-to, 1849–July 5, 1927) was a Southern Cheyenne warrior and member of Black Kettle’s band who was present at the Sand Creek Massacre. He was imprisoned in 1875. Library of Congress

Cheyenne Chief War Bonnet.

Cheyenne Chief War Bonnet, pictured during a visit to President Abraham Lincoln, was slain at Sand Creek in 1864. Library of Congress

Indian delegation in the White House Conservatory during the Civil War.

Indian delegation in the White House Conservatory during the Civil War. In the front row are, left to right, War Bonnet, Standing in the Water, and Lean Bear of the Cheyennes; and Yellow Wolf of the Kiowas. Eighteen months later, all four were dead. Yellow Wolf died of pneumonia; War Bonnet and Standing in the Water died in the Sand Creek Massacre; and Lean Bear was killed by troops who mistook him for a hostile. Library of Congress

Part Four

When Cops Belong to the Community And Enforcing the Law Isn’t the Only Point

The Sandcreek Massacre

Changing demographics have challenged the Anaheim Police Department to reinvent its community policing program over the years with an eye toward improving community engagement. Photo by Stuart Paley, Southern California Public Radio/KPCC

It’s been nearly 10 months since a fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, ignited a vigorous debate on the need to reform policing practices. But the path to reestablishing community trust in law enforcement seems no less fraught with obstacles now than it did on that transformative day last August when 18-year-old Michael Brown fell dead in the street.

Christopher Moraff

Christopher Moraff covers criminal justice, policing, and drug policy for Al Jazeera America and He is a recipient of a 2014 H.F. Guggenheim Fellowship for criminal justice reporting from John Jay College.

In a span of just three weeks this spring, a police officer in South Carolina, a reserve deputy in Oklahoma, and a veteran police officer in Pennsylvania were charged with criminal homicide in the deaths of unarmed suspects.

These events take their place on a growing list of controversial police killings that have focused national attention on the need to bring law enforcement back to its original mission: “protect and serve.” To this end, no fewer than three national bodies—the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the Department of Justice (DOJ)—have issued reports this year calling for expanded investments in so-called community policing.

Community-oriented policing is not a new concept, nor has it lacked strong federal advocacy since the DOJ adopted it as a formal strategy in 1994. To date, the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) has distributed more than $14 billion in grants to thousands of law enforcement agencies to advance a broad range of strategies ostensibly organized around community policing principles.

While many of these initiatives have borne fruit, the program has challenges. Since community policing is more a philosophy than a standardized set of practices, departments have a lot of flexibility in how the term gets translated on the street. And they don’t always get it right.

Still, it’s hard to find a police department today that doesn’t at least pay lip service to the ideals of community policing. A few stand out as notable success stories; however, even among successful agencies, many have learned the hard way that community policing is not an end in itself, but an ongoing process that requires regular fine-tuning.

“Nobody changes the police from the outside”

Community policing operates on the core principle that citizens are most likely to respond positively to law enforcement efforts that mesh with their own concerns—in other words, something that is being done for them, rather than done to them. The philosophy is grounded in the belief that an emphasis on procedural justice and responsive problem solving leads to improved public perceptions of the police, and that leads more generally to better law enforcement outcomes. The agencies that get it right invariably share one thing in common: progressive leaders who are committed to thinking outside the box.

“Nobody changes the police from the outside,” says David C. Couper, who spent 21 years as the chief of police in Madison, Wisconsin, a college city of just under 250,000 people. “The only people that can change the police are police themselves and their leaders, and absent that, not much is going to happen.”

Couper was an early pioneer of decentralized policing, and by the mid-1980s had used his tenured leadership post to transform the core mission of his department. On his watch, the department walked back an emphasis on code enforcement and started dedicating officers long-term to specific neighborhoods, giving them the discretion to work with community members to choose which crimes to prioritize. At one point, he says, the result was the de facto decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana.

“Community policing is about how officers define themselves,” says Couper. “If police see themselves solely as law enforcement officers, then they’ll spend all their time looking for some broken laws to enforce.”

Madison’s community policing strategy was expanded and formalized after Couper’s departure, largely under the tenure of his protégé, Noble Wray, who led the Madison Police Department (MPD) from 2004–2013. A survey of community partners conducted in the months before Wray’s departure showed an above-average level of trust in law enforcement and a high degree of two-way interaction between police and citizens.

“We need to be out in our community, engaging with citizens, actively breaking down those barriers some are trying to build.”

By all accounts, Madison stands as one of the nation’s community policing success stories. But it also serves as a warning against the dangers of complacency. The city’s decision in December 2012 not to file charges against a Madison police officer with a history of recklessness who shot an unarmed drunk man angered many in the community.

According to Sue Williams, Madison’s assistant chief of police, the department has been taking proactive steps to repair the rift. She says Madison’s new chief, Michael C. Koval, meets regularly with a Community Advisory Council, and the department has a “living” document outlining its trust-building initiatives posted on its website that is updated four times a year in response to community feedback. This year, the city began deploying an officer in each of its five districts who is trained to handle interactions with the mentally ill.

Nevertheless, the MPD faced yet another setback in March when the fatal police shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old biracial man named Tony Robinson put Madison in the national spotlight and sparked a series of #BlackLivesMatter protests in the city. As of this writing, the district attorney had yet to decide if charges would be filed against the officer, a 12-year veteran of the force with a checkered history.

Williams says the crisis offers an opportunity for the department to prove its commitment to community policing.

“We need to be out in our community, engaging with citizens, actively breaking down those barriers some are trying to build,” Williams says. “We have to be open and accessible.”

“The journey of problem solving”

To Lieutenant Tim Schmidt, a district commander in Anaheim, California—another early adopter of community policing—Madison’s experience underscores the provisional nature of community policing programs.

“Community policing is not a destination, it’s a process you have to keep working each day,” he says. “It’s the journey of problem solving.”

Anaheim launched a limited community policing pilot in 1995 that emphasized code enforcement and crisis intervention over long-term relationship building. The city has seen its COPS efforts evolve over the years and continues to refine them.

Anaheim is a larger, more ethnically diverse city than Madison. Since 1980, the percentage of residents of Latino heritage has grown from 17 percent to 53 percent. The changing demographics have challenged the Anaheim Police Department (APD) to reinvent its community policing program over the years with an eye toward improving community engagement.

A 2009 report commissioned by the DOJ found that the APD’s community policing efforts, combined with a citywide effort to facilitate community governance, had succeeded in fostering improved levels of neighborhood leadership and sustainability.

In the wake of violent protests in 2012 incited by a pair of controversial police shootings, the department doubled down on its community policing effort. The APD hired 13 new officers and assigned them to community policing “teams” that concentrate on proactive relationship building instead of responding to calls.

“I’m not talking about a guy just getting out of his car and just talking to people,” says Schmidt. “It has to be constant two-way interaction, and that feedback needs to find its way back to our regular patrol officers.”

In 2013 Anaheim hired its first Latino police chief, Raul Quezada, who promised to prioritize civic engagement. He started by establishing a program called “Coffee with a Cop,” designed to facilitate informal police-community interaction, and says he is committed to seeking civilian input on important issues.

“The key is listening to the community to determine what their problems are instead of having us tell them what their problems are,” said Quezada, in an interview with an Orange County policing blog in 2014.

Fighting crime or building trust?

Gauging whether a community policing program has been successful ultimately depends on how you define success. For the DOJ, community policing sits at the nexus of three primary elements: “organizational transformation,” “community partnerships,” and “problem solving.” But federal auditors, as well as many police agencies themselves, tend to overemphasize the latter of these variables, which, in practice, frequently gets simplified into “crime solving” at street level. That’s probably because it’s the easiest metric to track.

In Schmidt’s view, for instance, community policing is primarily a crime-fighting strategy that has the added benefit of building good will with residents. When asked for examples of community policing in action, he tends to cite standard law enforcement metrics like reductions in call volume and drops in nuisance crime. For Couper, and many other early community-oriented policing pioneers we spoke to, community policing begins with officer discretion and civic engagement and ends in increased public safety.

While the difference between these two approaches may seem like one of semantics, in practice they often manifest in contradictory policing strategies. There are lots of ways to solve the problem of crime, and not all of them facilitate healthy police-community relations. As the nation faces the crisis of a breakdown in community trust for law enforcement, departments will face more pressure to measure their community policing programs against something other than crime data.

“It’s about satisfaction and trust—that’s the first place we should be looking,” says Charlotte Gill, a community policing researcher at George Mason University.

The COPS office has already begun this evolution. Since the launch of its Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance in 2011, the DOJ has been gradually realigning its mission to prioritize trust-building initiatives.

Ronald Davis, the current COPS director, calls this a critical component of effective community policing.

“Earning the trust of the community and making those individuals stakeholders in their own safety enables law enforcement to better understand and address both the needs of the community and the factors that contribute to crime.”

Christopher Moraff

Christopher Moraff covers criminal justice, policing, and drug policy for Al Jazeera America and He is a recipient of a 2014 H.F. Guggenheim Fellowship for criminal justice reporting from John Jay College.