Systemic Racism Doesn’t Mean All Cops Are Racist (LISTEN)
The two word phrase, "systemic racism" is being said a lot these days.By people trying to battle it, by people denying it, and by talking heads on the radio and in social media. But what is it exactly?
Tuesday, I had a conversation with Dee Sabol, Executive Director of the Diversity Council, and got the answer.
There are two kinds of racism and one is systemic or institutionalized. Then the other is personal or individualized and, and, you know, our...system of policing developed at the end of the civil war. Um, and in response to the end of slavery and really formed, um, as a system to control newly freed black people, um, and the way that they interact with society. So, uh, you know, if that's how your system developed and that has never been addressed or looked at, uh, you know, you really can't say...there aren't racist, racist practices, um, attitudes.
A little later I commented so many of us know and love law enforcement officers, "...how do we communicate to them that we don't mean them personally, if it's not them personally that's causing these trouble?"
...You know, the same thing is happening to teachers on the education side, right? And as we address education issues, and I think the, the message that we need to continue to deliver to our own law enforcement officials...is that we need to do this work together, and not find fault, but discover cause. Those are two different things.
Listen by clicking play...scroll down for the written version of this part of the interview.
Automatic transcript of KROC NEWS conversation with Dee Sabol, the Executive Director of the Diversity Council about systemic racism on 06/30/20. You may find errors, please listen to audio above for corrections. It was part of a longer conversation on the topic of a Rochester Police use-of-force listening session held 07/01/20. You can hear the entire podcast here, just click Tuesday June 30 under podcasts.
James Rabe (00:00):
Dee Sabol, Executive Director of the Diversity Council, a lot of people have been saying that we don't have institutionalized or a, what do they call it? Now, I suddenly can't think of the word systemic racism because our, our officers or our employees aren't racist. Can you define or tell me what systemic racism is? Cause I don't think it sounds like what they're describing.
Dee Sabol (00:30):
Absolutely two totally different things. There are two kinds of racism and one is systemic or institutionalized. Then the other is personal or individualized and, and, you know, our systems developed our system of policing developed at the end of the civil war. Um, and in response to the end of slavery and really formed, um, as a system to control newly freed black people, um, and the waythat they interact with society. So, uh, you know, if that's how your system developed and that has never been addressed or looked at, uh, you know, you really can't say that there isn't there aren't racist, racist practices, um, attitudes.
James Rabe (01:19):
So what you mean is the system itself and not necessarily the officers is where the problem exists.
Dee Sabol (01:27):
There, there are, there can be problems with both. Um, and I think we've seen that, but really it's the system and the way the system functions, um, also determines who's attracted, like who are we attracting to law enforcement positions and why? Um, and, and so if the system were functioning differently and there are great examples of this around the country, Camden, New Jersey is the best example. Um, you know, they're, they focus on guardianship, the least as guardians, uh, and, and, you know, they rebuilt, they were one of the communities that had to completely tear down their policing system and rebuild it. And that is not the case for every community. Um, many, many communities can tackle reform together with existing police departments, but, um, in a today's refocused all of their energies on what does it mean if we're guardians to every human that lives in our jurisdiction. Um, and it has changed, uh, the rates of escalation that use of deadly force, um, incarceration rates, um, outcomes in, in domestic situations, all of those things have changed as a result of looking at their system and how they're applying, um, law enforcement.
James Rabe (02:44):
A lot of people respond with well, but you know, the civil war was forever ago. How does that possibly affect us now? What examples can you give us where there might be systemic racism? How can you say that it's been so long?
Dee Sabol (02:57):
Yeah. So, and, and it isn't just in policing, right? I mean, it's in our judicial system, it's in the things that we, um, penalize it's in the it's in the things that we determine, um, are illegal and then how we enforce, um, different things. And, and, you know, there are examples that are founded that far back in history. Um, but that perpetuates today, including, um, you know, the, the war on drugs and the, and the different perspectives that law enforcement took around the country. Um, when the, when the war on drugs initiated to the responses that, um, that they are enacting now in, in response to, um, the opioid epidemic completely different and racially motivated, not again by individuals, but by the systems that are set up and then the legal, um, and, and actual ramifications or, or, um, you know, perpetuating these, these ramifications against, uh, different parts of our population.
James Rabe (04:02):
There's been a lot of talk about tough laws that candidate Biden was part of enforcing and pushing. And it seems to me when I look at history, uh, that, that prison reform, that, that massive lockup, I think people all-around of all races and colors thought this is going to be good. We're going to get people that don't need to be there off the street. How did that become something that was racist or was it all along?
Dee Sabol (04:28):
It was, it was founded right at its heart. You know, this idea of, um, you know, uh, criminalizing and, and having extensive, um, repercussions for certain behaviors that are prominent in one part of the population and not another, um, and then not having similar, um, you know, results from other types of, of crime that, uh, it, right. So we created this differentiation, what we felt the penalties should be for certain crimes that, um, matched demographics in society. And, and you're right, and this has happened, um, under both parties and mass incarceration has, um, you know, affected individuals, not just during the time that they spend, um, actually engaged with the penal system, but the remainder of their lives, their, their earning ability, their ability to, to, um, you know, care for their children. All of those things perpetuate, um, from this mass incarceration movement. And, and so if we don't look at those kinds of things and look at how our own, um, policies and practices reinforce them, then we're not going to correct them. And it doesn't matter how good we are in our hearts is our systems remain flawed.
James Rabe (05:54):
And I'd like to, uh, end the conversation with, uh, one more, one more question. Um, you know, I know that our police chief personally, I've, I've been with him, his wife, his kids there. I think he's an absolutely wonderful person. I know our sheriff, I know a lot of law enforcement, and I think all of us say, say politics is local. I think a lot of times law enforcement is, and we know these people and we don't feel they're bad. And yet when they hear what's going on, whether it's a conversation about, uh, two, two strong enforcement, everyone's racist, what have you, how do we communicate to them that we don't mean them personally, if it's not them personally that's causing these trouble?
Dee Sabol (06:33):
Absolutely. You know, the same thing is happening to teachers right on the education side, right. And as we address education issues, um, and I think the, the message that we need to continue to deliver to our own law enforcement officials and, and, and others is that we need to do this work together, um, and not find fault, but discover cause, um, and those are two different things. Causation and salt are not the same. So if we can look at causation and together with law enforcement, um, code, make some corrections and adjustments, um, then I think we can feel that we've found a solution that supports our officers better in their daily work, makes their jobs easier and more comfortable and aligns that work with the community.
James Rabe (07:24):
You know, I, I remember something my father used to say, he'd say, when all of us were arguing about what have you, we'd say, Hey, fix the problem, not the blame.
Dee Sabol (07:31):
Exactly. And that's exactly what it is. And I know that's easier to say than to feel. And that frequently, um, our law enforcement officers feel the distrust and dislike of members of the community and realizing that that isn't a result of their own actions on, but it is the result of the systems they work within. And the sooner we corrupted those systems, the less of that they're going to feel. And the more trust we're going to establish, um, with everyone in community,
James Rabe (08:02):
It's, it's very hard. And I understand this entirely for someone to say, Hey, this isn't personal when that's actually your job, or you're the one that is being
Dee Sabol (08:09):
Exactly when you're carrying it home every day. For sure.
James Rabe (08:13):
I'm not, I don't mean to belittle it, but when I had a girlfriend that would cheat on me, she would say, well, it's not about you. It's like, Oh, excuse me. So in that tiny little way, I can understand how someone will say, well, yeah, you're saying it's not about me and yet…
Dee Sabol (08:26):
Yeah. I have to feel it. I have to feel it every day when I, when I'm on the job and when I go home from the job. Yeah. And that, that's why it's so critical that we take this moment to work together and that we establish trust and relationship. And that we really look at how can the policies change? How can the structure change so that we can all find, I mean, it's the same thing for the person, you know, a person of color on the street who has interactions with police, whether they're here or someplace else has always been negative and where there's generational negativity in those relationships, you know, it's not easy to say to them, well, I'm not going to hurt you right. When their life experience says nothing good is going to come from my interaction with you.
James Rabe (09:09):
Um, one of the ways that this begins is by listening, which is, I'm certain why it's called the listening session. So that is going on tomorrow night, five 30 on the diversity council's Facebook page. There is a story about this up on the KRC news app. Please click on it and listen in and comment if you need to.
Dee Sabol (09:29):
Yeah. We'd love to have everyone. Yeah.
James Rabe (09:31):
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us today?
Dee Sabol (09:33):
Um, no, thank you so much for covering this. It affects everyone, everyone in community and community safety, um, and our pathway forward together. So I appreciate you covering that.
James Rabe (09:44):
You bet that is Dee Sabol, the Executive Director of the Diversity Douncil. Thank you so much for the conversation today. I appreciate it.