When we hear the phrase 'Stop Police Brutality, we envision the rallying of activists marching on the streets. But, what of the research and education behind the scenes to achieve this goal? Between the calls for defunding and reform lies the 'how to' towards equity. This week's guest, Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, breaks down the science, data, and experiments on racial biases as the tool needed to improve equity and end police harm one community at a time.
Goff is a professor of psychology and African American studies at Yale University. He is also the Co-Founder and CEO of Center of Policing Equity, CPE, an organization designed to help communities and police departments to improve equity by providing analytics and evidence from experiments to help create new systems free of harm. "Most people define racism in terms of contaminated hearts and minds.", says Goff, but this doesn't address the root of it.
He knew we had to dive more into what systemic racism means and how to take action on it. "I find that the lane is a lot emptier in terms of the doing of the 'how,'" Goff says, "My job was to derive and supply the language that could make sense of that."
Goff was inspired at an early age, having grown up in Philadelphia and seeing the police bombing at Move on the news and experiencing police racism first hand as a teen and young adult; he thought, "Oh, this is what policing is. They're targeting me." Driven by these experiences, he went into racial justice research and began to focus on policing in 2008; it was then he realized that, with the exception of Rodney King and Police Profiling, the data was lacking. "Police brutality has been a thing since forever." He says, "So you would hear things about police brutality; the idea of the scale, the sort of magnitude of the problem; I think that really starts to hit in 2014."
During the start of his analyses and experimenting, he found that individual racists weren't even the most significant issue, having witnessed implicit biases varying per situation. "I was convinced that the science was useful out in the world,'' says Goff. He helped fine-tune the definition of implicit bias. Still, Goff feels the term, unfortunately, negated structural and explicit racism being used as a training tool. "It was never supposed to be a training tool; it was a message that said that the structures are so jacked that it gets into our brains. Stop trying to say that that's the silver bullet, like racism is one thing.", Goff says "If you want to end implicit bias, you make the world an equitable place, that's how you fix it."
Goff realized that in "communities of concentrated disadvantage," there are additional obstacles such as jobs or healthcare, so they began measuring the harm caused by police. "We created a performance management system, but not for crime; for justice.", says Goff, "tracking the things that communities want law enforcement to track and allowing that to move them in the right direction," Goff says with this plan, they have seen a 10-25% drop in arrests, killings, and use of force, and they continue to chip away at the system in various cities like Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, and Minneapolis. In addition, Goff says that their work in Ithaca, New York, helped bring law enforcement and community members together to agree on removing a police department and transitioning into a Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety.
Goff understands that not all cities are the same and that there will be pushback. "I genuinely believe that if this stuff moves the right way it needs to move and we don't measure success, it will be cast off as ideology when the inevitable failures are easily weaponized." However, in cases like the removal of police from Long Island schools, Goff believes the continued work of CPE with communities has a positive future. "Less police is part of the goal.", he says, "We have numerous examples of how powerfully good it can be for communities when badges and guns are not the first and only response."