Policing Project Director Barry Friedman recently sat down with Sherrilyn Ifill, Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, for the American Law Institute’s Reasonably Speaking Podcast. Ifill and Friedman explored the intersection of race and policing, what it might mean to re-imagine public safety, and the increasing use of surveillance technologies.
The conversation began by discussing the complicated and fraught relationship between race and policing. As Friedman noted, the two have long been bound up in very troubling ways, and it is only by acknowledging this history, and its continued impact, that we can hope to make progress. Indeed, this principle is at the core of the Policing Project’s work with the New York City Police Department and Open Society Foundations aimed at reducing racial disparities in policing in New York.
The conversation next turned to what role police play in achieving public safety. A key question: are police the right responders for dealing with a host of public safety issues, such as individuals in mental crisis? Ifill spoke of re-defining the role of the police within a new understanding of public safety that is created by and premised on the needs of the community. In such a system, perhaps only a small part of public safety would include the police.
This idea is central to the Policing Project’s Re-imagining Public Safety project. As Friedman noted, when thinking about the proper role of police in a given situation we should ask: “Why are the police here?” (or “Are police the correct actor to bring to this problem?”), but also, “Why are the police here?” ( or “What are the broader circumstances that required police intervention to begin with, and could we avoid that need entirely?”) These are the questions that motivate our RPS project.
Finally, the conversation turned to policing technology – another core area of the Policing Project’s work. Friedman and Ifill questioned the traditional assumption that technology tools would be less effective if there was public regulation up front. Instead, as we at the Policing Project believe, we might actually improve these technologies by making them more transparent, more racially equitable, and at the same time equally effective, if we engage the public before these technologies are deployed.
About the speakers
Sherrilyn Ifill is the seventh President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. After graduating from law school, she served as a fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union and then for five years as an assistant council in the Legal Defense Fund’s New York office where she ligated voting rights cases. A critically acclaimed author, her book, On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century, reflects her lifelong engagement in and analysis of issues of race and American public life.
In addition to his work at the Policing Project, Barry Friedman is the reporter for the American Law Institute’s Principles of the Law, Policing, and is the author of the critically acclaimed The Will of the People: How Public Opinion Has Influenced the Supreme Court and Shaped the Meaning of the Constitution, and Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission.