Our community is fortunate to have the Friends of the Village Library to organize important conversations and events like the “Looking in the Mirror” program. I have attended a few of the series including racism in education and in healthcare and had come to expect a decent program when tuning in.
On Feb. 10, I listened to The Cooperstown Reflects on Racism and Law Enforcement Series with my wife hoping for an invigorating and forward-thinking conversation.
The event had the express goals of:
1) Examine the impact of racism on our community and institutions;
2) Learn how to confront bias and inequities locally;
3) Identify actions that individuals, groups, and the community can take to address racism and create a more equitable Cooperstown.
The speakers during their presentations and the Q&A did not address, examine or achieve any of these goals. I have spent the last four months thinking about this event and pondering what can be done to jumpstart the difficult discussion that works to foster the growth and honest conversation needed if we are to address the goals of the series.
Our community must strive towards achieving these goals until we succeed if we hope to create actual change in our world. Ignoring these goals is to ignore racism which only perpetuates white supremacy by propping up the racist institutions and power structures in our community and in our country.
Below are my reflections on Racism and Law Enforcement utilizing the above goals as my guide. My intention by expressing my thoughts and feelings about this event and more largely racism and bias in our community is not to attack the speakers and attendees of The Cooperstown Reflects on Racism and Law Enforcement Series. I hope by presenting this alternative path the community will create space for a more critical analysis of the power systems that influence our lives.
1) Racism has impacted our community and institutions in such a profound manner that we cannot imagine a justice system that is not based on punishment. We instead can only see a world where being one of the earliest adopters of Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 203: NYS Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative in the state means that our community is progressive and welcoming. Eager adherence to such mandates by the government shows Cooperstown’s pro-policing nature which does not work to dismantle the systems of oppression at the foundation of our country.
Racism has impacted our community to the point where we allow the institutions of the police department and mayor’s office to use the majority of their time during this series to ask for more funding and support for policing in our community instead of addressing the stated goals. The influences of racism are made tangible when the “communal we” thinks that adherence to a policy calling for police to “… promote community engagement to foster trust, fairness, and legitimacy …” is understandable and necessary. Giving police more money and increasing the size of our police force does not make the community a safer place.
2) I spent my time during college learning about Black studies, education and history. Even with a degree based on analyzing racism within the United States, I find myself lacking the tools needed to gracefully confront bias and inequities. The Cooperstown Reflects on Racism and Law Enforcement Series could not and did not confront bias and inequities locally nor did they offer any steps or tools to handle racist events and interactions. There was a missed opportunity to highlight activists and scholars who have accessible works that are listed on the Friends of the Village Library website such as Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Michelle Alexander, and Ibram X. Kendi or to introduce folks like Prison Industrial Complex Abolitionist Mariame Kaba who strives to create a transformative justice system in our country through organizations like Project NIA and Interrupting Criminalization. As a majority White community, we must actively struggle against the systems that benefit us the most. Recognizing that racism is not always overt actions and statements of bigotry is necessary if we hope to effectively dismantle powerful institutions such as the institution of policing which is founded in racism and white supremacy.
3) Instead of continuing to allow racism to exist in our space, we must imagine a different world for ourselves. If there is a community that can take this bold step against racism and white supremacy it is Cooperstown. The magic of myth-making is powerful enough to warp realities. The people of Cooperstown know this to be true, as the story about a simple game being born in these hills changed our world. We can use the same imagination that created the reality where people come to our town every year because they love baseball and want to share in the glory of its perceived, albeit imagined birthplace. Let that imagination envision a world where our justice system is not based on punishment and banishment and instead is based on healing and learning as a community. Removing a person from the community by locking them up in prison through our judicial system or by “canceling” them for their racist/sexist/misogynistic/unacceptable behavior does not delete these unacceptable behaviors. It destroys lives and homes while leaving a wound in communities where we could have instead taken the opportunity to learn, grow and heal.
A major action that we can take as a community to create a more equitable Cooperstown and Otsego County is to abolish the village police department and to shut down the county jail. The funding and staff can be reallocated and transferred into adjacent fields where their skills and experiences can be utilized allowing the employees to continue to serve our community in a meaningful way. Having staff transition into positions with fire departments or local EMT companies while reallocating money to mental health and other social services is a great example. Another fantastic example is the S.T.A.R. (Support Team Assisted Response) Program in Denver, Colorado, and Eugene, Oregon which sends mental health professionals instead of police to respond to emergency calls when appropriate. The road ahead will be bumpy and the temptation to settle for half measures will arise. With this in mind, we must continue ever forward, holding ourselves and each other accountable and on course. When we stumble and falter we must be gentle with ourselves and remember that change even when necessary can be difficult.
Destroying white supremacy and racism will not occur overnight however with time and with the bravery to dream of a truly changed world we, the Cooperstown community, can and will take the arduous journey together.