At Alive & Free, we don’t just hope our young people stay safe, we work unflaggingly to make it so — teaching them to make safe choices and follow the path away from violence. Typically, this has been a discussion about community violence. At this moment, however, our community must also reckon with another crisis: police violence.
There’s been a steady drumbeat of news about shootings of unarmed black men around the country, teens dragged from school desks, or slammed to the ground at pool parties at the hands of police. It’s a crisis.
This is not a contest between police violence and community violence. They are both bad, and we need to tackle both challenges. I joined the San Francisco Police Commission in an effort to reduce police violence. This is of urgent importance to our community, especially in the wake of the officer-involved shooting of Mario Woods right in our backyard that shook us to the core.
Not only is his death a tragedy, but what was already a shaky relationship between police and communities of color in San Francisco was completely shattered.
I aim to deal with the issue of police violence just like I deal with the issue of community violence: by bringing the central principles of Alive & Free to bear in advocating for police reform and accountability.
Alive & Free Policing means improving police community relations and making changes to training and policy. Many of the police killings of unarmed people of color have been ruled “in-policy,” meaning, the officers were said to have been acting within the rules. To me, that means we need new rules. Police officers need different training, different policies and different procedures that minimize the chance of the loss of life.
We need new policies around deescalation of force, around support fire (current rules say that when one officer fires, others must follow suit), and around creating time and distance — especially when it comes to edged weapons like knives. We need to emphasize crisis intervention training for officers, especially when it comes to the mentally ill. In short, we need to create new use of force policies nationwide that make shooting someone the absolute last resort, while at the same time maximizing safety for police officers. It’s a tough thing to do, but it must be done.
Through my involvement in the Police Commission, I have the opportunity to make changes that will help create a new way of policing in America. I am working to advocate for police practices that will have a high regard for the value of life, work to rebuild damaged relationships, and exercise respect for the humanity of every single person. Alive & Free will continue working tirelessly to keep more young people safe from violence and free from incarceration. That means guiding more and more young people through high school and off to college and spreading the Alive & Free Prescription far and wide. It means making the effort to reduce both community and police violence.
Wish me luck.