I graduated from Morehouse College in 1985 and went on to earn advanced degrees in engineering, technology education, and computer science. I have spent the last 30 or so years in machine learning, data science and A.I., at least 15 of those devoted to the development of instructional technology.
Recently I learned that Morehouse is developing technology that will be used for training police officers. Although the aims of the technology are to reduce racial bias in police encounters with Black people, the project amounts to ethics washing and ultimately would further the harms inflicted by police upon the very marginalized groups that the research team is attempting to serve.
There is an extensive body of research that tells us that anti-bias training for police departments does not work, if the goal is to change outcomes. While a virtual reality trainer might give police or city officials a box to check (ethics washing), the outcomes are likely to be of little value to residents of West End (the mural of this post is located in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood) or any other Black community in Atlanta. Police do not make Black communities safer. The larger point from abolitionist projects is that current conceptions of policing are developed out of a system that grew out of the “slave catchers” that hunted down enslaved and free Black people.
Counterintuitively, reforms do not make the criminal legal system more just, but obscure its violence more efficiently.Derecka Purnell, Reforms are the Master’s Tools, in Abolition for the People
Security and freedom, for peoples subjected to the normalized state- and culturally condoned violence of (global) U.S. nation-building, require a decisive departure from typical demands for policy reform, formal equality, and amped-up electoral participation; rather, what is needed is a mustering of collective voice that abrogates the political-discursive limits of “demand” itself.Dylan Rodríguez, Abolition as Praxis of Human Being
I encourage the Culturally Relevant Computing Lab and the National Training Institute on Race & Equity as well as other departments within the College to explore creative alternatives that would result in a safer world for students and staff and faculty, the West End and wider Atlanta community, and the Black people.
We know that the surest way to reduce the violence of policing is to reduce contact with the police. Effective community control over safety and well-being can focus instead on how to reduce policing power, police presence, and police contact even as we suggest ways we can continue to build community safety without the involvement of law enforcement at all.Beth Richie, Dylan Rodríguez, Mariame Kaba, Melissa Burch, Rachel Herzing and Shana Agid Problems With Community Control of Police and Proposals for Alternatives.
I offer five ideas in the spirit of “the surest way to reduce the violence of policing is to reduce contact with the police“.
- Develop training and curricula to address Black anti-trans violence. The Black trans community is among the most marginalized and brutalized in the united states. If the goal is to create training that reduces community harm, developing training that mitigates inter-community violence, provides resources and support to trans members of the College and surrounding community will ultimately address anti-trans violence committed by our own as well as the police.
- Develop training and curriculum to address domestic violence. When we again ask why the police are called into our communities, much of it has to do with violence that stems from the home; from relationships; from misogynistic cycles of abuse. Education that actively engages the students in shifting ways of interacting with each other and with the broader community will plant the seeds that reduce harm. To look at the core question, how do we train Black feminist men? I encourage centers to consult the growing resources on community care.
- Develop capabilities to conduct audits of police statistics. In her On Counting Crime lecture Dr. Tamara K. Nopper details how police crime statistics are notoriously inconsistent and misleading. Can Morehouse develop capacity to conduct audits of the Atlanta Police Department, holding them to acceptable standards of reporting? Could this technology be developed in conjunction with the surrounding community?
- Develop violence de-escalation training for the community. A more community centered focus on safety would again center the question of how to reduce the need to call police in response to violence. Can the relevant centers at Morehouse develop training in conjunction with violence prevention and intercession experts that allows the surrounding communities to build collective safety? the surest way to reduce the violence of policing is to reduce contact with the police
- Develop platforms to re-integrate incarcerated community members. What platforms can be used to maintain connection between incarcerated members of the West End and their community? What are accessible technologies that can be used to facilitate their transition to freedom without surveillance? What roles can technology (broadly construed) play in providing them adequate access to mental healthcare and vital skills training?
This list just scratches the surface of possibility. I know that the brilliance and insight of Morehouse and Atlanta’s other Historically Black Colleges will allow for true innovation and a re-imagining of a free and safe world.