A recent study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health aims to understand public sentiment and awareness about initiatives directed toward violent encounters between police and young black men.
University researchers surveyed multiple stakeholders in North Minneapolis and East St. Paul to assess efforts to prevent these encounters. The study found that many individuals are aware of community-based programs, but not programs specifically designed to reduce aggressive confrontations.
“I think clearly building community relations is part of the solution, but we need to be explicit,” said Rhonda Jones-Webb, lead author of the study and professor in the School of Public Health. “Police talk in general terms [like] alternative activities and alternative programs. They never explicitly say the goal is to reduce potentially violent encounters between the two groups.”
The study surveyed a group of 48 people varying from members of youth-serving organizations, law enforcement individuals, educators and young black men ages 14 to 24.
The pilot study aims to pursue a larger intervention and is meant to be an early step toward preventing violent encounters between police and young black men, Jones-Webb said in an email. The team's next step is to build a group of community stakeholders in hopes the research will be used to further specific initiatives.
Sasha Cotton, youth violence prevention coordinator for the City of Minneapolis, said groups like Resilience in Communities After Stress and Trauma — or ReCAST — and Blueprint for Action connect law enforcement with the communities they serve.
ReCAST specifically serves areas affected by police-involved shootings of unarmed African-American men, and Blueprint works to prevent youth violence using a public health approach.
“It’s harder to build relations when you only call on cops in a crisis,” Cotton said. “People don’t call the police on a good day.”
Michelle Gross, president of Minneapolis group Communities United Against Police Brutality, said accountability is key to building trust between police and their communities.
“A lot of stuff is out there about building trust. You can’t build trust without justice, trust is the end result of better policing,” Gross said.
Jones-Webb was most surprised by the survey responses from young black individuals, saying their responses were nuanced and showed an ability to look at the issue from not only from their perspective, but the perspective of police officers as well.
“Just the balance and perspective and insight ... they looked at the issue from different perspectives. The part that was more surprising was being consistent with 'informal practices' when dealing with police,” Jones-Webb said. These informal rules include keeping one's hands on the steering wheel or waiting to retrieve one's ID, according to the study.
Jones-Webb’s own appeal to the subject matter stems from her interest in high rates of premature mortality among African-Americans.
“It was really the constant headlines regarding violent encounters between police and young black men, and feeling [that] this is not acceptable,” Jones-Webb said.