Psychologists Address Police Interactions with Boys and Men of Color

Do you know that feeling when you hear something really meaningful? For me it often involves a pit in my stomach and the chills. It is not an entirely pleasant feeling, but it is a helpful reminder that something important is happening that I don’t want to miss.

Long exposure to capture the full array of police car lights. 12MP camera.

That’s the feeling I got at the beginning of the session “Working with Critical Gate Keepers to Ensure Safety and Justice for Boys and Men of Color.” I was moved right away by Dr. Christopher Liang’s passionate opening in which he described why he and Dr. Helen Neville decided to co-chair the symposium. He shared his reactions to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, (and other similar incidents) and called on psychologists to do more to address the epidemic of police violence against boys and men of color.

The speakers covered a range of important topics. Warren Spielberg, PhD, discussed the experiences of boys of color in school, including the fact that many are accused of cheating if they do well, are blamed for fights, and are generally described in negative ways. Many boys cope with this treatment through academic dis-identification, where they decide it is better not to care about school than to experience the emotional pain that could accompany these interactions.

Most of the panelists discussed the fact that psychologists can play a larger role in screening and training police officers to reduce bias against boys and men of color. They can work with community members to develop guidelines and use the research on prejudice reduction to train police officers. This work is often challenging and it may take years to develop relationships with police departments. Lorraine Greene, PhD, noted that “strong partnerships between police and males of color require trust and confidence to have legitimacy and justice.”

Nevertheless, the success stories shared during the symposium were inspirational and provided the audience with practical suggestions about how to do this work in our home communities. The symposium ended with a call to action—audience members were given notecards to write down our plans to put what we learned into practice in their own lives.

Change can start with us.

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