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What IF …? Public Safety, Race, & Society–the Second of Three Conversations

George Floyd protest in Grand Army Plaza, June 7, 2020. By Rhododendrites – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

What are different dimensions of “public safety”?

Since the police killing of George Floyd, there have been uprisings and protests in the streets across the US and around the world. In this three-part Community Conversation Series on Public Safety, Race, and Society we are helping each other explore what these events might reveal about public safety, race, and our society. In our second conversation we explored different ways of understanding what might go into “public safety” and who, or what institutions, might play a role in establishing public safety. We focused on “public safety” to broaden the lens beyond a focus just on policing. We did this to place policing in context–not as an end in itself, but as a way to support community well-being and public safety. We want to encourage reflection on the public goals and purposes that might shape our polices. Below you’ll find a rough summary of ideas that came up in this conversation (notes from the first conversation are here). In these conversations we’re trying to help each other stretch our minds and consider different perspectives, even ones we disagree with, as we share our own.

What’s your ideal vision for community well-being and public safety? That’s what we’ll explore in our upcoming third Community Conversation on August 6 at 1pm-2:15pm EDT (registration here). We will help each other to sketch out our ideal visions for public safety–and what pathways we might take to reach those ideals. We don’t need to agree on our ideal visions–nor on the pathways to them. This is a chance to stretch ourselves beyond the status quo and imagine new possibilities. Doing so can help free us from “analysis paralysis” or a sense of defeatism about positive change. This series, conducted via Zoom, is a collaboration of IONA, the DC Office on Aging, and the Interactivity Foundation.


Different dimensions of public safety

Social dimensions of public safety

  • Mutual trust in others and social responsibility for one another
  • A mutually accepted social contract with shared understandings of acceptable behavior (shared norms and principles)
  • Repair of the social fabric with a focus on shared understandings of the common good
  • Develop and sustain a social contract that equitably protects and binds all (not as only protecting some classes of people and controlling others)
  • Inequality as a major disruptor of public safety
  • Public trust that government and public institutions are acting in the public interest
  • Broad trust in the rule of law and equal administration of justice (not applied more harshly because of race or class status)
  • Public safety is sorted by demographics (white wealthy males have the most)
  • Negative attitudes and behaviors toward outgroups hurt public safety (racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, ageism, ableism, etc.)
  • Ideologies that treat one group as superior, or as the default, hurt public safety (White supremacy, White privilege—some of us inherit public safety by the color of our skin)
  • Increasing historical awareness would increase social understanding, boosting public safety
  • Homogeneity or sameness in a community can make it feel safer (sameness in demographics, ethnicity and language, etc.)
  • Homogenous communities make it easier to know the norms of behavior, how to read other people, which increases public safety
  • Forced or fake homogeneity makes us less safe
  • Heterogeneity with inclusiveness, a sense of community across differences, increases public safety
  • Openly embracing variety and differences is key to a healthy community with public safety
  • Segregating people so they are only among those “like” them makes everyone less safe (“walled” communities aren’t the answer)
  • Divisiveness and “othering” hurt public safety: creating and targeting outgroups is destructive of public safety
  • Regionalism and localism can make us feel safer, since it’s easier to have a shared community spirit with a smaller group
  • Regionalism and localism can make us feel less safe, since they can lead to divisiveness and tear at the broader social fabric
  • Language, especially when wielded by the powerful, is increasingly weaponized, leading to a decreasing sense of public safety and a growing likelihood of violence
  • Generational aspects of public safety: younger people are more likely to act out
  • Gender aspects of public safety: men are more likely to act violently, women more likely to be targets
  • Economic aspects of public safety: it’s hard to feel safe amidst financial fragility

 

 

Physical or material dimensions of public safety

  • Well-maintained physical environment and infrastructure (no missing lighting or handrails, etc.)
  • Shared and inclusive public spaces for all sectors of the community to bring people together for shared experiences
  • Economic disparities in the quality and upkeep of community infrastructure and public spaces hurt public safety
  • Stability and improvement of the natural environment—e.g. negative effects of climate change hurt public safety
  • Freedom from crime and acts of violence at all times and in all places (the ability to walk at night)
  • Having the material conditions to sustain life: food, shelter, healthcare, etc.
  • Having access to universal healthcare and a robust public health system is key to public safety (consider how unsafe we are with C-19 pandemic)
  • The prevalence of guns in our society makes us less safe

 

Personal or psychological dimensions of public safety

 

  • Feeling safe and without threat of physical violence at home or in public
  • Feeling safe and without threat of verbal or emotional abuse
  • Feeling that you can look others in the eye and they look back with mutual acknowledgement
  • A personal sense of connectedness in community impacts feelings of safety
  • Living with a sense of thankfulness (for what you have, for those who have come before you) makes you feel safer
  • A mindset of abundance makes you feel safer; a scarcity mindset less safe
  • A sense of socially responsible makes for greater feeling of public safety
  • A sense of genuine freedom as responsive to community well-being: it’s not the same as radical individualism
  • The attitude that “I should be able to do whatever I want” is destructive of public safety (e.g. people refusing to wear masks during the C-19 pandemic)
  • A sense of situational awareness, knowing where and when it is safe to go
  • A sense of control
  • Knowing the rules and norms of interaction and that they are commonly accepted and followed
  • Feel safer with people “like me” (people of my race, gender, age, class, etc.)
  • Being seen or excluded as an outgroup, makes you feel less safe
  • The feeling of safety comes from how others look at us: view me with suspicion, then I feel unwanted and at odds with the whole community, making the community less safe
  • Feel safer in a mixed community, with all different demographics freely mixing together
  • Feel safer in a political community where you can express yourself freely without being punished (in contrast to feeling physically safe in a police state)
  • Feel safer in a police state, where you know you’ll be free from violence or crime as long as you don’t freely express yourself or protest the government
  • Feel safer as a person in a wheelchair: no one sees me as a threat, so they leave me alone
  • Fear of change makes a person feel less safe
  • Public safety as entailing feelings of trust, openness, equal rights, collaboration, stability, and lack of fear
  • Feeling secure in regard to the material conditions for life in society (bodily safety, health, food, shelter, personal economics, etc.) are key for public safety

 


Who or what institutions might play a role in public safety?

  • Government has the key responsibility for supporting public safety
    • Equitable public investment is needed for safe physical infrastructure as well as for meeting basic community needs (if public health is key to public safety, then we need universal equitable public access to healthcare)
    • If mixed and welcoming communities are key to public safety, then there needs to be public policy and public investment to support this (e.g. investment in low-income housing integrated into the community)
    • The public needs to invest more in communities to address community needs so there will be less reliance on policing
  • Healthy functional democratic institutions, with an open environment for democratic participation, to enable a self-governing society
  • Public-spirited political leaders who are responsive to the public good, not private interests
  • Public systems or institutions that confer safety public safety by group status need to be reformed (e.g. change systems that confer public safety by the color of our skin)
  • The police—in some communities they are experienced as a support, in others as a threat, and this breaks down by race and class lines
    • “You are never less secure than when you are with police officers who feel unsafe around you”
  • Police should be “of” the community, living where they work (knowing your neighborhood officers as neighbors) and focused on the good of the community
  • Tasking the police with too many responsibilities decreases public safety
  • Militarizing the police decreases public safety
  • Police unions are an obstacle to public safety when they focus on the interests of the police to the detriment of community well-being
  • The US should learn from other nations that are handling community policing in a more harmonious and effective way
  • The criminal justice system is an obstacle to public safety—we imprison more people than any other country, but it doesn’t make us any safer and it isn’t improving anyone
  • Harsh immigration policies, including detaining and excluding immigrants, using negative language about them, make us less safe
  • Education (not limited to schools) is needed to teach and cultivate a sense of shared social responsibility for the safety and well-being of the community
  • Distributing education by economic status makes us all less safe
  • Arts and culture organizations are needed for creating shared community experiences to bind communities together across differences
  • The media plays a key role in making the public feel safe: the media hypes violence, media narratives are often slanted against outgroups, all of which decreases public safety
  • Social media hypes trends, often making people feel less safe
  • Consumerist culture makes people constantly feel insecure (they need more!)
  • Every individual plays a role in making communities safe