Justice In America Today?: Activism… If not me, then who? MSMU Examines the Role of an Activist in Social Change

Mount St. Mary’s University hosted a Town Hall conversation Wednesday evening, Feb. 3, the third of a series of panel discussions on the broader topic of “Justice in America Today.”

The panel discussions began at the beginning of the academic year in September, as an initiative by President Simon Newman to engage the university in conversations that analyze the issues of racial unrest and social justice in the United States, following the events that occurred in Baltimore of April 2015.

Dr. Paula Whetsel-Ribeau, Vice President for Student Affairs, hosted the event on behalf of President Newman, while Dr. Rosie Bolen moderated the distinguished panel consisting of Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott and US Capitol Police Force Chief Kim Dine. The event was organized and advertised by the Mount Students for Justice Committee.

Councilman Scott set the seriousness of the discussion when, after greeting the audience, he began with the statement, “this is America and we have problems.”

“My city, Baltimore, is like a forty-passenger bus,” he continued, “Every seat on that bus represents an issue that is wrong with my city.”

While Scott recognized that many concerning issues from when he was a child have improved, there are still many areas, such as police brutality, economic opportunity, race, poverty, etc., that require the attention of politicians, law enforcement, and citizens alike to ensure that positive change takes place, not only in Baltimore, but across the entire nation.

Scott pointed out however that no issue is more or less important that than the other, “Everything is equally important, and what we need is people working on every issue. We have to look at the complete picture, and the complete picture is every issue has to be worked on concurrently, and we have to give it all of the focus.”

In reference to the events in Baltimore from the previous year, Scott asserted, “I did not need April to happen for me to know that those issues exist. Those issues existed long before April, and they are going to exist long after.”

“I say that for many who were asleep for at least the thirty-one years that I have been alive, April was an awakening point for them to realize that the perfect world that they thought they lived in, was far from perfect.”

Chief Dine then took to the podium and began his presentation by detailing the nine “Peelian Principles” written by Sir Robert Peel in 1829 when he created the London Metropolitan Police Department. Peel’s principles have continued to serve as the model for modern ethical policing through the present day.

“Each and every [principle] is incredibly relevant when we talk about the critical issues in policing today,” Dine explained, “When we look at those principles and if we look at actual practices of how to impart true community policing…we learn that we can work through issues, we can solve problems together, but it is based on respect and trust through communication.”

Dine stressed that building good relationships with community members early on is crucial to good policing. “Because of the relationship you built, you can quell rumors, you can tell them here’s what happened, and it’s accepted, and it helps keep things under control.”

Scott agreed, and noted that it is much more difficult to deal with issues in the aftermath of an incident, like the one in Baltimore, without having a trusted relationship between police and community members established prior.

“We have to get to a point where every officer in every neighborhood has to have ownership of that neighborhood and have a relationship with all of the people there,” he suggested, “Right now, in most cities, our officers only have a relationship with the people that they are arresting and the people that call 911 all the time.”

Both panelists described a number of policy changes that could be made to allow for better policing. Councilman Scott outlined a proposed tax-credit plan aimed at incentivizing Baltimore emergency personnel to live in the city, which would help establish relationships between them and community members, modifications to the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights, allowing citizens to sit in on trial boards, and the idea of establishing schools for public safety that would prepare interested citizens from an early age proper and ethical policing techniques.

Chief Dine suggested that police officers “work with citizens, by having regular and constant meetings with people living in those neighborhoods, to get communication going and reduce frustration. You not only meet when there’s a problem, you meet all the time.”

“The police are not, and should never be an occupying force, or seen as an occupying army in that neighborhood. They should be seen as partners with the community,” he continued.

With regard to what steps young civilians can take to ensure that justice is preserved, Councilman Scott advised, “Start now, you don’t have to wait…when you see or hear of injustice, call it out…find your passion and stick to it, you don’t have solve every problem…you can’t do it all by yourself, work collectively as a unit, and work with people of like minds” and to put aside “selfishness of human nature for the greater good.”

Chief Dine added, “Finding your passion is the key, and as you try to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life, that’s the way to make a difference in whatever area it is, and then you will fight injustice, and you will be an activist because you’ll be passionate about whatever you are doing.”

Dr. Whetsel-Ribeau concluded the discussion, reminding the audience, “Our hope is really that this conversation…does indeed maybe ignite somebody’s passion…to action, to activism.”

“We always hope the conversations like this leads to something more,” she continued, “and that it actually does turn into something that becomes productive and that we’re known for at Mount St. Mary’s.”

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