Last year, a friend of mine asked me to be on a panel on allyship. The fact that she thought of me for this panel was an honor, and one that I felt uncomfortable with in many ways because of how imperfect of an ally that I am.
In prepping for the panel, I did alot of thinking about my journey of understanding about race and racism and what it means to be anti-racist. Many of the first steps on my personal journey took place in Memphis, where I went to college, stayed for one graduate degree, and lived and worked for several years. I love this city, and I reflected on it, and a little bit of my journey, on Medium earlier this evening. You can read it here if you want: https://medium.com/@williamsonsabrina4/memphis-5ce268b42e61
When I think about what is happening now with the death of Mr. Nichols at the hands of five police officers, my thoughts get jumbled up in many ways but there are points of clarity. The main point of clarity is that the system of policing as it is set up in the US is based in violence. Are there individual officers who are different and who do their work differently? Yes. Absolutely. But the system itself is violent and to seek justice for victims of violence means to change the system rather than just holding individuals accountable for their behavior (obviously that should be done too).
There are some in the social work profession who believe we should disavow any participation/employment in policing. Their stance is that change means abolition of the system as we know it. There are others in the social work profession who believe we should absolutely be employed in these settings, to be a part of changing the system from the inside out.
This is a great (tension-filled) example of how we can struggle with regard to ethics as professionals in the context of our own profession. Ethical standards of public participation, social and political action, integrity of the profession and more are all points from which you can have a teaching/learning moment with respect to this issue. Having this discussion in a recent semester in my macro practice class, I can say it is one of the hardest classroom conversations I have facilitated and “held space” for, especially given the experiences of the students in the room.
This is an interesting piece I want to read again, and share with students for discussion in the fall: https://inquest.org/cops-and-counselors/ Here is a link discussing findings from a national survey on levels of resistance and support for reform, defunding, and abolition efforts: https://news.yale.edu/2022/02/04/resistance-defund-or-abolish-police-rooted-policy-proposals. And finally, here is a link to a piece from Social Service Workers United-Chicago that shows the power of collective action for professionals as well as our clients, and also provides some background and resources regarding how professional views on this issue differ: https://socialserviceworkersunited.medium.com/the-nasw-is-failing-us-either-it-changes-or-we-will-change-it-ourselves-b1da4c8a0096