Keeping Us Safe, Beyond Policing (With Dr. Phil Goff And Zach Norris)

Show Description

Baratunde builds off the last episode of his previous podcast, We’re Having a Moment. He speaks with two esteemed guests, Dr. Phil Goff, who works directly with police departments around the country, and Zach Norris, who works with communities, about ways we can reclaim public safety that don’t always need to involve the police.

Show Notes & Actions

Show Transcript

Baratunde Thurston  0:05  

Welcome to How to Citizen with Baratunde, a show where we reimagine the word citizen as a verb, reclaim it from those who weaponized it and remind ourselves how to wield our collective power. I'm Baratunde.

Like a healthy democracy, this show is stronger with your participation. And we have a number of ways for you to do that. in public, use the hashtag how to citizen when you post about the show on social media, and I'll share out some of your stories to communicate with us directly. Send Feedback and ideas to comments at how to citizen calm. And if you've taken the actions we recommend at the end of each episode, share those with us by emailing action at We've been moved by what you shared from the episode so far. And look forward to more and to building future episodes with you and your actions. Now a word on how we make this show. We record most of these shows live in Zoom with a studio audience cameras on chat room lit up, and we take questions from you for our guests. I'd love to have you join for a future taping. Visit and join my email list for the invites and my amazing weekly emails. I'm the best emailer. While I love the live audience, don't worry. I'll catch up with just you on the other side of this conversation where I'll give you some really specific ways to citizen for this episode. In the meantime, I'm going to hand the mic to myself as I set up the conversation with our amazing guests.

I have been thinking about this word normal a lot lately. What is normal mean? You know, normal is the state of things. Things that we get used to. And normal can change. So for example, I don't think is normal to have 15 different streaming platforms, vying for access to my wallet and my attention. I think that is very abnormal. But someone just coming into the world today says, OK, Grandpa, thanks for complaining. This is how it is. Stop your whining. 

In the United States, we have grown accustomed to a lot of normal. That feels pretty abnormal if you start to look at it a different way. And nowhere is this clearer than in the area of public safety. And in particular, the area of policing we exist in a moment right now. A pandemic, an uprising and revolution is centered around so much of this issue of policing and it has become normal in this country to spend 100 billion dollars a year on law enforcement. 

It has become normal for school police departments to have grenade launchers, you know, in case the kids get out of hand, it has become normal for the number one budget item in many of our cities to be going to the police department and making all of us residents by default by mathematical law, residents of a police state. 

But a challenge has emerged from this moment to change that normal to do something different to defend the police. And I know when I first heard that, I was like, Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, what are we talking about here? This sounds like madness. What about crime? I love it. I was like, What about crime? What about murderers? What about all the bad things? And there's an answer to that, and answer we're going to explore far beyond the slogans. In this show. 

We can spend our money in many different ways we can make the public safe, without calling on a relatively unaccountable man with a gun to Try to resolve a situation. And I wanted to have that discussion. 

I wanted to explore this range of options, or we're going to have any police at all. It sounds a little crazy. What about the cops that are already there? Like some of them are good people, but also, what about social workers and people who actually know how to solve some of the problems of homelessness that we are burdening these police officers with? And what about the risk to communities for so overburdened with exposure to law enforcement for whom they are not protecting and serving but doing something much more dastardly? I can't do that discussion on my own, and I knew two people I wanted to do it with and we're gonna get the benefit of their genius and their brilliance in this episode. 

The first is Dr. Philip Atiba Goff. He's the co founder and CEO of the Center for policing equity. This is the world's largest think tank and action tank focused exclusively on race and policing. It's like he built an organization designed for Wherever you are right now, also as if that's not enough. He's a professor of African American Studies in psychology at Yale University. His team at CP uses data science and partnerships with law enforcement agencies and communities to reduce racial bias in policing. 

Joining Dr. Phil Goff will be Zach Norris, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Zach's also the author of a book made for this moment, called we keep us safe, building secure just an inclusive communities. And he's the co founder of restore Oakland, a community advocacy and training center that will empower Bay Area Community members to transform local economic and justice systems and make a safe and secure future possible for themselves and their families. 

That's the formal introduction, the informal introduction as I have known these brothers for 25 years, were in the same year from Harvard and I have seen them do this work. Their entire adult lives. They've devoted so much deliberation to improvement in very different ways. I am excited to welcome you Phil. I'm excited to walk muzak Phil, I've had such insight into your work. I've literally like been hanging out with police chiefs, and you in the same room at the same time. And so I'll give you an opportunity to expand briefly on just how you describe what your work is, because I see you doing the data science thing working in communities trying to stop police from killing Black and brown people in a very scientific way. And we're in a moment where it's like, defend the police, and yet you're also working with police. So can you describe your work so that we can understand that better?

Phil Goff  6:46  

Sure, and I know that I'm skipping ahead, but there's no there's no way to prevent me from doing that. I'm kinetically predisposed. Okay, um, but we hear people talking about defunding the police. I just want to want to say I've been hearing police talking about defund the police using variables. language for years. There's no police chief that works with us that doesn't think it's a terrible idea to send law enforcement to deal with drug overdoses like why would a badge and a gun help with that situation? 

But I'm in the longest part of what it is that we do at CPE. I mean, you said it basically, exactly that we work between communities and law enforcement to help on the inside of law enforcement, making them less racist and less deadly. And then on the outside, so that communities are empowered to make decisions about where they want law enforcement to go. And just as importantly, especially in this moment where they don't want law enforcement to go, the sort of key value add the thing that we do that other people hadn't been doing. 

We don't just calculate disparities, right? So let's say Black people are four times more likely to get beat up by the cops than white people, which is roughly right, nationally, right. If we imagine there's racism and policing, why on earth would we not imagine that there's racism in housing and education and employment and in health care? All of which happens before any contact with police. So that 421 number that some police is some poverty, it's some other forms of racism. And I want to hold police accountable for the things that they do. Right? I don't want to make them accountable for all the things they don't do, like we do for everything else, I make them accountable for all public health and for all educational. 

So we put we use science to give them back a measure of justice, not just a measure of crime, and that allows communities to hold them accountable. And in doing that, we've also essentially created the algorithm that says, and here is where we no longer need them. So in this moment, when people are talking about defunding, my hope is we're going to end up talking a lot more about investing funding blackness, right. But if we need a roadmap for how to do this, and not have to worry so much that violence is just going to become the second pandemic in this space. There are ways to measure that too. Because there's a lot of policing that has nothing to do with violence has nothing really to do with the fastest route to it. Public Safety. And to the degree that there's good news in the middle of the space, there is no responsible police chief who won't tell you that to their face.

Baratunde Thurston  9:09  

Zach, I want to give you a similar opportunity to break down where you fit into all this what is the work that you're doing through Ella Baker and through and particularly through the store Oakland?

Zach Norris  9:20  

Yeah, I appreciate that. As Ella Baker Center, we advocate for books, not bars, jobs, not jails, housing and healthcare, not handcuffs agenda. So we very much like alliteration, and we also like funding a social safety net. 

We've seen too much investment in what we call a punishment dragnet. And we want an actual safety net to be supported. I mean, if COVID-19 shows anything, it shows that public safety actually starts with public health. For so long. We've said you know public health issues need Public Health Solutions. 

We never thought we would need to say that as it relates to global pandemic, right, but leave it to this president to use a global pandemic as just another excuse to blame, shame, scapegoat marginalized communities, people of color. And so that is that has a long history in this country. And we have been fighting since the mid 90s, when it was not popular to do criminal justice reform or anything along those lines, to really advocate for the funding of blackness, the funding of communities of color, the funding of dignity and low income communities and communities of color across the country.

Baratunde Thurston  10:40  

break down what restore Oakland is and what you've tried to design to that. Yeah,

Zach Norris  10:44  

for so long, we have been pushing for resources to be shifted away from sheriff's departments, probation departments, police departments, prisons and towards community based supports for people who are navigating Issues of homelessness, drug use, mental health issues, etc. And we finally found some success. 

About five years ago, we moved Alameda County to move about $10 million away from the sheriff and probation department towards basically community stuff to support people who are navigating the jail system. Now, what we found is a lot of the same nonprofit agencies were getting the funding who were good at putting together an RFP, but we're not good at actually providing people with a job, or doing restorative or transformative justice. They had no felt community connection. And so we're like, people need visual aid. 

Sometimes government need visual aids, we decided, hey, let's create restore Oakland to actually show what we mean by community safety. It's an 18,000 square foot building that houses restorative justice, one of the first dedicated spaces for restorative Justice in the country, much like you wouldn't just go to a courtroom and have a sandwich or have a beer. We think restorative justice should be held in a kind of sacrosanct manner to help hold people accountable while still holding them in community. And that is within restore Oakland, a restaurant run by formerly incarcerated folks and others who have been locked out of opportunity and nonprofit organizations that are fighting to hold not just community members accountable, but also elected officials accountable to our vision of books, not bars and jobs, not jails. So all of those things come together and restore Oakland. 

And you can imagine it almost as if it's like the first solar panel when it comes to public safety in our mind, right? Because how would you imagine a new energy future if you hadn't seen solar panels and wind turbines and those things, and so much of our imagination has come to be dominated by shows like law and order and cops and also you know, Orange is the New Black that we think of prisons as really the The architecture of public safety. And we're trying to shift that in people's mind by actually providing this visual aid.

Baratunde Thurston  13:07  

That sounds beautiful. Sounds like you built Wakanda in Ohio.

Zach Norris  13:11  

We try. I'm still trying to get a shout out from my brother, Ryan Coogler, who also went to my high school shout out, right? If you could come to restore Oklahoma, we'd appreciate it.

Baratunde Thurston  13:23  

Well, I'm sure he's going to hear that because everybody's gonna hear this podcast as right, I want to give you an opportunity to define a term that you dropped a few times in there, which not everyone is familiar with. You said, restorative justice. Yeah. What does that mean?

Zach Norris  13:38  

Yeah, so restorative justice is a process for individuals, for communities and for nations and on the level of individuals. It's the person who's caused harm the person who's been harmed, sitting together in a circle, surrounded by the people that support them. And what happens is an accountability plan is developed so that person has to make amends. For the harm that they have caused, it's amazing because it reduces recidivism rates, meaning people are much less likely to get back in trouble. 

Again, victims report much higher satisfaction rates because they can see the accountability. They know, here are the steps this person is taking to write this wrong. And it's amazing for democracy as well. Because all those people who are in that secondary circle surrounding the foreign person and the person who's caused harm, really have to actually ask, what could I have done to prevent this? And what can I do to make it right? So it's really building this kind of community accountability muscle that I think is absolutely critical in this moment, because we got politicians that are running wild. And if we don't really have this practice of like holding people accountable in a way that isn't, you know, just

Baratunde Thurston  14:53  

like exile,

Zach Norris  14:55  

exile right, because you can't be answerable to someone if you can't actually hear Have them or be an interface with them. And we've relied on a punishment system that actually short circuits accountability rather than in genders. And that's what restorative justice is really all about.

Baratunde Thurston  15:12  

You know what, thank you for that. When I think about the way we do policing in this country, I'm reminded of my first visit to a jail in this country, which is Rikers Island in New York City. And it was just a few years ago. And it stood out to me because it is a massive complex, about 10,000 people there at the time that I visited. And I lived in New York for a decade and had no idea. 

It is like that Game of Thrones, north of the wall area that we are allowed to forget a part of ourselves, you know, a part of our society, our neighbors, and these were people who hadn't even been convicted of a crime. Yeah, they were waiting for trial, you know, because they didn't have bail money or something. So thank you for breaking that down. Thank you for reminding us. I think that with the money Unity can have a role in accountability and in achieving public safety. Pay me a picture, Phil. When we do public safety right? In this country, how is it different from the way we do it now? Especially given your proximity to law enforcement, your partnership with them? What does it feel like?

Phil Goff  16:20  

You talked about that, like we don't do it right. And that's just not quite accurate. In this country. We absolutely do it right. Just not where we're thinking about it. Because we're thinking about it. Like, where you live in LA, we definitely don't do it right there or where I live in New York. We don't do it. Like I mean, they don't do it at all. In some places where exactly right. 

But there is this wonderful place, not Wakanda but it feels mythical, where when somebody loses their job, they have money. And they have, you know, retraining community colleges they can go to when they have a mental health crisis. There are counselors they can talk to, when there's a breakup, they got couches, they can surf on they got friends who can support that marriage. When their kids acting wild, they have a community can call in and an aunt, or grandmother who can talk to them a neighbor who can take them and teach them a trade. And when law enforcement's called, it's called to deal with the most vulnerable or the most serious, and it is not too severe, or too lenient, because it's aligned with community values. And you're looking at me, like all confused, wouldn't they have her place? You may have driven through this place. I want to I want to take my time to pronounce the word right. And he's called the suburbs. 

Yeah, so I know it was a long walk to get the punchline of that joke. I feel like it was worth it.

Baratunde Thurston  17:37  

It's also a long walk to the suburbs because it really isn't.

Phil Goff  17:41  

Exactly public transit doesn't get there, which is by design. They didn't want the folks who were living in the inner city to get out anyway. It's kind of like cage like they meant to do it that way, both on meta and in their schools. But this is not the point. 

The point is we do this right. Imagine a community of 50 people we all know each other and there's a sheriff and the sheriff just beats The hell out of the kids for petty theft. Well, the 50 plus won't get together, we don't get a new sheriff because that's not how you treat kids. Now imagine the sheriff lets the kids run wild and kids are burning down homes, well, we don't get together as 50 people, we won't get a new sheriff because that's how we treat all the problem in larger cities, and in some of the rural areas, and in fact, in some of those suburbs when outsiders come in, like folks and get out is that we untether, right, the issue of severity, and protection. And we just campaign on we just message around protection, because we refuse to see the humanity of the people who cause those harm. 

So in smaller communities that have resources, there's how to pay if you are too severe on somebody's shot. But in communities where the parents of the children who are most likely to cause harms don't have any power. There are no checks. The authority to administer punishment. And that's what I'm talking about when I'm talking about how we do public safety, right? Yeah, right. There's no reason for massive military policing in suburbs where they have control over their law enforcement, they wouldn't stand for it. But in systems where power is concentrated among elites, and where those were most vulnerable to underground economies and to the violence of poverty, instead of in addition to the violence of street crime, in those kinds of places, policing is not just to keep everybody safe. It's protect one group of citizens against another. And when you set up policing like that, we have accountability. 

Police, you get punished every time that the people who have power are upset with what they do, right. But that's a different kind of accountability than democratic accountability. And so I want us to be specific, let's not act like we don't know how to do public safety right in America, like it's just it's this unfathomable thing. We do it all the time. We drive through it on the way To the place where we want to get stuff fixed, right? So it's not mystical, it's practical, we can hold it. The difficulty is both remembering that these are part of the same country hard if you travel back and forth, and then the price of the ticket from where we are to where we're going, because that change is real and painful. And there is a place where people are reasonably concerned about violence. And that's part of the conversation we absolutely have to have right now.

Zach Norris  20:27  

I mean, I remember reading this book about the opioid crisis and reading I think it was about Burlington, Vermont and the police chief there was coordinating with hospitals, encouraging them to use methadone or whatever it is to step folks down from that addiction. He was saying no, don't do this, you know, law enforcement thing. Here's the public health thing as I understand it, and I was like, my mind was blown. I was like, What in the How is a police chief? Like, you know, coordinating With hospital systems in a way that actually promotes a public health response, but to Phil's point, I mean, it's real. 

That being said, like we live in a country that is profoundly racist, right? And so when what I often say is like, how could we think of taking care of public safety if we haven't taken care of the public, and we are coming to be a majority people of color nation, and we are not taking care of that majority of people. And I just feel like we have to call the question of the larger system as a whole and understand that police chiefs have some say so but also there is this huge problem. 

And to Phil's point, like, let's not make it all the police problem, but let's still address the larger problem. We went from a country that said, you know, what, the only good Indian is a dead Indian as during our westward expansion to neoliberal governance over the past 4050 years that have said the only good government is death government. And I know that sounds harsh, but I'm, honestly believe that if recession after recession, you only fund policing in prisons. The very thing that if recession after recession, we've seen 23 new prisons in California built just one new university. 53 cents of every federal dollar goes to military. As you said, Baratunde the lion's share of resources on the city level goes to police departments, sheriff's you talked about shares. The sheriff's are the most powerful political entities in many municipalities. 

And so the very things that accelerate the morbidity of black and brown people are the things that have been recession proof over the past 4050 years. And that's not including what you know, Reverend Barber calls the death measures on the do so every half million people who don't have health insurance 1800 people will die. 700 people dying a day from Mountain attrition and poverty, right? And so we have funded governance that is allowing and COVID-19. These are all pre COVID numbers. COVID-19 is exposing this in a different way. And I think that there's a reckoning with governance that isn't actually supporting and sustaining life that is about policing, but it's also much larger than it

Phil Goff  23:23  

is. Can I just add back onto my man shout out Brandon del Pozo, who's the former chief and Burlington. That is not just the outlier. That isn't what he wins awards from other chiefs, right in the same way that Scott Thompson who led the transition of Camden's dissolution and then rebuilding a police department not that that's a model not that that's remotely close to perfect, but Scott talks about all the time, I'd rather have a Boys and Girls Club than 10 officers. This is now mainstream within law enforcement and was 10 years ago. They were saying like, you guys want us to do everything. We can't do everything right. You can't be like, I'm gonna stop street crime and I do hair. Like that's not a thing that long. enforcement can do. 

And what that means is either you reckon with the violence of poverty being something that cannot be handled with a badge and a gun, or you have decided that all you want to fund is punishment. Yeah. and law enforcement gets that on some really deep level at the top, not all the rank and file, not all the sheriff's on all the rural folks. So it's not the full profession by any means and not by union heads, and not the union heads who are often not representative of the rank and file that they're supposed to represent. But there is a class of law enforcement has been saying now for decades, get us out of the places where you couldn't possibly train us to be shrink the size of what you're investing here and give it someplace else. They don't like the idea of their budgets really shrinking because they already feel too stretched. They will get okay with it. When they no longer get asked to be responsive to all of these other calls. And if they don't get okay with it. That's okay, too.

Baratunde Thurston  25:02  

You've both talked about the power of a smaller group of people to get the outcomes that feel more humane and more just and what we would all want for ourselves. I'm looking for examples. Can you share something about what people have been able to accomplish in this arena that could give people like me and anyone who's listening, a bit more faith in ourselves to change the direction of all this?

Zach Norris  25:26  

Yeah, I mean, the first thing I'll say is like the sky will now fall we can actually close prisons and increase public safety. And I have an example to prove it. When I first came out of law school, I worked as an organizer with Ella Baker Center, talking with families of incarcerated youth and young people were being isolated 23 hours a day for weeks and months on end. Families driving 250 miles just to see their kids only to be told they couldn't visit because they had on the wrong color pair of pants, or because their kid was on lockdown. Unsurprisingly giving these conditions three out of four young people were being re arrested within like a year. And the state was spending over $150,000 per year per young person on this system. 

And so parents and grandparents and others said we need to close these youth prisons down. And this is not, you know, five years ago, this was turn of the century youth super predator time period. I personally was like, I don't know if we can do that. But I had the good sense to listen to my elders, we organize we got what started as a dozen families became over 1000 families. We went to the Capitol in Sacramento, we were persistent and insistent, we brought those statistics to them. And the recession helped also and over a 10 year period, we close five of eight youth prisons. And guess what youth crime continued to decline during that same period as we were closing down youth prisons now. California wants to close the remaining three youth prisons. And we want to ensure that that is done right. But it shows that we can actually do something different. We can do something different, not only when it comes to non violent offenses, but also quite frankly, when it comes to violence as well. I'll stop there. 

But I want to speak more about kind of violence and the possibility of taking a public health approach as it relates to that as well. I will just say, like, never doubt that a small group of people, as Margaret Mead, or somebody said, can make a huge difference, right? Because like nobody believed that this group of moms and grandmothers who were derided as the welfare queens who were believed to be the problem could have made this change and in coordination with the Youth Justice Coalition and amazing organizations, we were able to shut these youth prisons down To increase public safety through that process,

Baratunde Thurston  28:03  

I really appreciate you sharing that story and reminding us, you know, I think there's a model of change that a lot of us digest, which says, Well, we got to get a billionaire. We did our own like mech warrior, you know, to come in and fight on our behalf in this battle. And you're like, these are moms and grandmothers, I'm sure a lot of Latin X and Black moms and grandmothers who people in the statehouse in Sacramento, are used to regularly not having to pay attention to because they don't pay a lot of property taxes. They don't necessarily vote regularly because they don't give to campaigns, they can afford to show up.

Zach Norris  28:38  

And to be clear, that was part of the strategy because just by going to the Capitol, and showing up and saying we are desperately trying to support our children and grandchildren, we were pushing back on decades and centuries of misinformation and structural racism and just racism as Ephraim kindy reminds us to Just just call it racism. And so, you know, so much of the dehumanization comes from separating families and we were pushing back against that very intentionally

Baratunde Thurston  29:10  

build, do you have a story of the power of people in some of these communities you're working with, potentially, to actually achieve a different outcome a better outcome for more?

Phil Goff  29:21  

Yeah, I think that I mean, when we work in communities, that's all that we accumulate as we accumulate stories of people being more powerful than the systems that the rest of the world feels like define them. I think that there's a really popular one that everyone has access to. But I think it's easy to forget in this moment, which is at the height of the stop, question and frisk regime, and NYPD, for every 100,000 black males between the age of 16 and 35. They were stopping 189,000 a year.

Baratunde Thurston  29:53  

That's okay. So mathematically, they were stopping brothers twice or five times.

Phil Goff  29:59  

Yeah. So You would get stopped multiple times per year, if you were in that age and race demographic. That's, I'm not a mathematician. But wait, I am a mathematician. So that's too many. The definition of that is just too damn many times. 

Yeah. And the explanation was, well, this is what we have to do, because crime is so out of control those neighborhoods. So then they stopped because the court said, Stop. And crime continued to go down. Violence continued to go down. And they said, Well, you wait for it, you make us keep doing this, and it's gonna go back up again. So now what we see is, as murders go up across the country, everybody said, Well, see, we told you, so. Come on, man. You don't get an eight year window to decide that eventually sums it up. And that's, that's sort of the moment that we're in. The thing I actually want to point to, though, because that's the example of look, we don't have to be doing policing this way. As an easy example of that. There are two things I want to point to that give me hope right now. One is the community navigators program actually in Minneapolis. And here's why it gives me hope. 

So Baratunde, you and I, we talked about this, but it's usually not for camera. But one of the things that I'm most passionate about in my job is dealing with the survivors of sexual assault survivors of the most intimate forms of violence. And the second worst thing, and for some of them, even the worst thing that happens to folks who are survivors, is they have to explain to somebody No, I didn't want it. Yeah, we had had a relationship. But this time I was clear. I think I was clear. Why does it matter what I'm wearing, it doesn't matter how much I was drinking. Those are the questions of the person who's supposed to protect you, who's taking your report so that the state can advocate on your behalf. It is such a violence, the things we put people through. So why do it? 

Yeah, you can send social workers whose job it is to connect people to the services, they're going to make them whole as people first and say when you're ready, and that might not be today. I can take a report though. We'll be the legal report. But before we have to do any of that, how are you doing? What do you need? Are you talking to somebody about it? How's your support? So the response to crime, the response to violence, doesn't need someone armed for violence. And that basic recognition that policing doesn't have to show up whenever there's the trace of violence, especially violence has already left the scene that allows us to imagine a more humane response to the people who are experiencing violence were survivors of it. 

So that's the first thing that makes me hopeful. And that inspires me because that's people saying people should be responsive to this. The second thing is, so the Monday after Minneapolis city council said, All right, we're disbanding the police department. The chair city council comes out and says, Hey, would you mind if we tap you all to be one of the people who helps do this? There was five minutes before Rachel Maddow and she was gonna go on right before me and I was like, I guess Okay, bye. And then she went on and said, by the way, we're gonna use CP to do this. Rachel Maddow asked me I was like, Yeah, I guess Don't do that thing they said. That's how

Baratunde Thurston  33:02  

it's a great negotiating tactic here. And now.

Phil Goff  33:05  

She is the chair of the Council. So that week we got 950 calls from different cities. And there was chiefs and community members and mayors and city councils, all saying we want to be responsive to this moment, because we get we've been doing public safety wrong. But how? Yeah, so we started putting together a roadmap, and the roadmap is not this is what to do. 

The roadmap is do this, and then you'll be better positioned to make an informed decision. It's literally who's calling for police. what services are people calling for? Where are they going? when they're on their own? What neighborhoods are blighted by crime, and which ones are blighted by police surveillance, but not crime. Those are the places where you should be investing resources. And you do those four steps, and all of a sudden you have a map of, Okay, this is what they do and where they go. Do we want them to do that? Considering that in some of these communities, it's less than 10% of the time that they're spent is on fire. at all that allows for some reasonable response. And the thing that makes me excited. 

We unveiled this with the Obama foundation a couple of weeks ago. I did it live last week on the TV. And we've had dozens of cities. And we're not waiting for y'all to come in these things like things we can do. We're doing them. And they're like, oh, now that I see the numbers, we have things to do. Yeah. So that instead of waiting around, there's a roadmap to go, because of course, it's going to take time. But everybody should also be reasonably expected to be tired of waiting 400 plus years for this. Right so that people want to pick it up, that they're taking it and running it. That's exciting to me.

Baratunde Thurston  34:38  

What's a weigh in that you've seen work? That someone who's not a full time activist or full time in this work, can do to be a part of this to help make public safety more public and more on the safety?

Unknown Speaker  34:51  


Zach Norris  34:52  

First thing I would say is, I want to lift up that we can actually respond to violence in a public health world. I also, I want to lift up the work of DeVonne Bogan in Richmond [CA]. Richmond had one of the highest per capita murder rates around 2005. He came in, developed a mentorship program, and supported these 30 young men who the police believe were responsible for some 70% of the crime. And over I think an eight year period helped reduce homicides by some 70%. 

And it was profoundly simple in the sense that he was like, What do my children need? What do my adolescent children need, and basically designed a fellowship program around that to provide them with monthly stipends, positive mentorship and travel opportunities. And as these young men were invested in, as they saw themselves as part of the solution, rather than being derided as part of the problem, they really helped usher in a wave of peace in the city of Richmond. The work he does is now called Advanced peace. 

And that wasn't just an Instrumental for them that was instrumental for moms and grandmothers who's trying to go to the park down the street for shopkeepers who wanted to keep their businesses open. And this didn't come through primarily a law enforcement response, but really just asking people who were believed to be responsible for the violence in a city. What needs to be done? Who do you have beef with? How do we resolve those issues, and it had a tremendous impact and effect. And so some of what we're saying that people can be doing in this moment, is just be good neighbors. 

Understand that when someone comes through your community who maybe you don't recognize, maybe the first thing if there are darker skin color, then you don't call the police Don't do that. Don't be that neighbor. And one of the ways in which we're promoting this kind of different ethos around community safety is through an event we call night out for safety and liberation. Every year since the 80s, police have done this event called national night out, which I think has the right spirit behind it. I'm gonna be real. It has the right spirit, which is, you know, community members reclaiming safety. But I think too often police bring a very narrow definition of what community members should do to promote safety. They say you're the eyes and ears of the police. And if you see something, say something, which results in George Zimmerman murdering Trayvon Martin, it results in the kinds of calls that you know, this woman did to call the police on this birdwatcher, 

it is that kind of culture of suspicion that I think we need to move away from and so night out for safety and liberation is an opportunity for people to reclaim community safety in a more holistic way to recognize that we have hearts, we have hands, we have minds, we have a lot of things that we can do to contribute to community safety, and this year, it'll be on October 6. There's some 36 Cities participated last year, and it's growing every year. So we're really encouraging folks, especially especially in this year, when the two visions of safety are on such for display, that he keeps us safe lie of Donald Trump, which is, quite frankly, an abusive lie. It's the lie that says, only trust me, even while you're doing the dirt and causing the harm scapegoats entire communities and individuals. We reject that lie. We believe that we keep us safe that all of us contribute to community safety. And that's the vision we're bringing with night out for safety and liberation. So one of the things that people can do is just contribute and get involved in that a bit.

Baratunde Thurston  38:53  

We're gonna go to questions. First up, we have Sarah Hughes. Where are you in? What's your question?

Sarah Hughes  39:01  

I'm in Rochester, New York. And I wanted to ask a question about the basic design structures within our society being fundamentally hierarchical. And if that is something that you think may have contributed to power imbalances, because it's designed in a way that aggregates power at the top, I'm curious to know, to what extent you think that is a factor, and also, in what ways this conversation might be informed by reimagining the models.

Phil Goff  39:31  

So I'll go ahead and hit that one first. Um, yes. Also, yes. I don't know if that's enough specificity for you. So I'll expand just a little bit. It just it wouldn't make sense for law enforcement to continue to engage in these behaviors if there weren't people who said, yeah, that's about right. Right. And let's keep in mind that in many communities, 911 is a larger driver of contact between law enforcement in communities that are officer initiated, which means that law enforcement ends up serving as the personal racism concierge But for Karen's all over the world, if it weren't Okay, it wouldn't be that way. 

So the question is how many people are okay with it? And what levers of power to the folks who aren't okay with it have to pull? Because clearly there are communities that say that we've had enough. I think pretty much everybody who's in the audience here has said, we've had enough. But we're not enough to get that done. At least we haven't been. So that means we change tactics, change strategies, we have a different approach to how to leverage our power, which is why we see folks out in the streets 6970 days in a row, unprecedented in US history. That's a way of engaging in democracy. 

And we put pressure on the people who do feel that discomfort only when we put pressure there, but remember that the dick wolf show is not law. It's long and work. And the order part is the problem. Because if I am empowered to keep order, and my idea of order is the social hierarchy As it stands, I'm allowed to use force when you stepped out of line. And that's the that's the gospel truth for law enforcement, right, is that they're also order enforcement. So, again,

Zach Norris  41:08  

yes, real quick because it's racism, but it's also patriarchy. We live in a society that undervalues taking care of people. And all of the caring profession from teaching to healthcare to so many other things that actually are about safety are underfunded and under resourced. And that is as a result of that form of human hierarchy.

Baratunde Thurston  41:29  

Thank you, Zach. That's a great addition. And creating more of a culture of care is something that we should do. So thank you, Sarah. Thank you, Phil. Thank you, Zach. Next up, Jesse Fable. Let us know where you are. And then what's your question your topic,

Jesse Fable  41:42  

and in Minneapolis. So it's been a whirlwind, but been engaged and excited. And there's a lot of work from organizations like reclaiming the block about changing the city charter, taking the police off, putting community safety and violence prevention in and I'm wondering What all of you think is the appropriate first step? Is this necessary for change to even happen? Or is it premature?

Phil Goff  42:09  

So, as a scientist, as one of the nation's leading experts on these issues, it is really important for me to say clearly, I have no idea. I don't know what the right next steps are. Because I have a sense of what the goal is. Everybody wants to live in a community where no one has to call the police, right? police want to live in that community. They understand that that's their job to like, put themselves out of business in a certain kind of way, though, that's not how they're run. They understand conceptually, that's their job. And everybody understands that we should have more options when we're in crisis than just imagine a gun, right? Or basically gun an ambulance or a fire truck like we understand that. But how do we get there? I don't know. 

What I will say is, it's both incumbent upon us to move quickly and not to rush 400 plus years with repression deserves a plan. Like you should put a plan in place. And it should be one that's based both in something you can communicate clearly, and message clearly with it with a community. And it's got some kind of evidence nearby, but it won't be evidence on what's worked. Because we've not done this before. We've not managed the change across what I would encourage folks to do in terms of as we move through these processes. It's okay to demand. So how are you going to deal with violence? Right? How are you going to deal with the current staffing issues that you've got? How are you going to know that on the other side of this, you have given to the these vulnerable communities, a definition of public safety that they agree with? Because if they don't feel safe, guess who's not calling the cops. And in a neighborhood where no one wants to call the cops, that is a great place to crime? Right? 

If I wanted to crime, I would crime in places where no one wanted to report crime. And that means everybody's less safe in the same way that you have small communities that can't social distance, and now everybody's sick. Right? The social networks that spread violence are brutal. Literally the exact same, you have these small communities where they can't get out of the crimes trap and the violence trap, and it spreads, suicide spreads that way, gun violence spreads that way, virus spreads that way, we could be using these same systems to trace back the virus to identify the folks most at risk for other kinds of violence. We don't you can demand that, and that's the best we're going to do. Make sure that they're tracking it enough so that they can say we did this and we messed up. Because otherwise they're going to claim that they won, the other side's gonna claim they lost either way.

Zach Norris  44:33  

I would just say, Don't keep doing the same allocation or mis allocation of resources, especially in the context of upcoming depression due to COVID. We see municipalities still giving the lion's share of their resources to Sheriff's Department, rather than understanding we're gonna have a ton of homeless people. We're gonna have people who are hungry and we need to actually this is the rainy day we need to fund people survival. The other thing I'd add is like crisis act in California is an act to create sort of a pilot program for a different form of response to emergencies that people would be able to call upon. And in those communities where people don't feel safe calling the police would have a different access and resource that has to be funded and scaled and publicized so people know about it.

Baratunde Thurston  45:24  

Rabbi Jenny, coming up next, I think is the first time I've ever had a rabbi. Call into the show. I feel so special Rabbi Jimmy, let us know where you are. And what's your question?

Rabbi Jenny  45:34  

I'm calling in from Santa Fe, New Mexico. And my question is for community leaders like myself, what do we do in situations where we need support in terms of security, because the Jewish community, I know the Muslim community and I'm sure there are other communities We're constantly under various kinds of threats. And we need help to protect ourselves, but at the same time, don't want to be complicit with the police structure. Also, we don't want to put our members of color under any kind of threat to either themselves physically or emotionally when they come into the communities, and if they see police officers, whether they're in uniform or not. So my question is, how can we provide adequate security for our members without getting into this complicit relationship?

Phil Goff  46:42  

It's a fantastic question. And the model that I might turn to is the way that schools have started to remove law enforcement, because they're also concerned they got outsiders which were not in the school, particularly concerns about gang affiliation. So what do you do? Well, they some of hard, private, secure And it turns out that does a lot of the same things that law enforcement does, right? Someone said, well, we'll keep the law enforcement will push them further out. That means that they're further away from the violence when it happens. 

But there are models in Phoenix and in Detroit, and in Houston, for what they do is they make outreach to the very folks, they're concerned about committing acts of violence. And they say, what is it that we need to do to make sure that you are safe as you approach our community? And they talk to the folks who are the targets and say, Who are you afraid of, and they build a bridge where the folks who are most aligned with that violence folks who are most concerned about having violence done, they're essentially community interrupters of that violence. And so it's a kind of radical love, where you're doing outreach to groups where you're not concerned that violence is happening, you set folks up as protection, but from community now, that can happen in places where the violence is fists, and clubs and knives. 

It's much harder when you have organizations that are dedicated to the actual discrimination of the group of people inside the building. There are not radical anti high schoolers in the way that there are radical anti Semites. Right? So that model doesn't work everywhere. But knowing your enemy, as so many people who are survivors of violence already do is often the right model in the context of anti semitism or anti blackness for churches that are concerned about that, I don't know that there's a model that I love. That solves it, in part because we have just so many guns. And it's so very difficult to protect against guns without armor and guns of your own. And this is a place where many people do end up going back to a form of law enforcement, which is off duty. 

They're working at the behest of the folks local, but there's not a perfect solve, which is part of the work that frankly exact has been doing so well for so long, is building these bridges between these areas. But we don't solve mass incarceration without talking about violence. We don't solve the problems of violence without talking about access to guns. These are the same issues. So for you, I would say, again, in my most full throated from my chest voice, I don't know. But there are models of community violence interruption, that depending on where the threats are coming from, you might want to investigate. I'm happy to talk to you offline on that.

Baratunde Thurston  49:14  

I want to acknowledge and appreciate you naming the gun issue fill in the United States is a nation of guns populated with a few people, as well. And I think there is a lurking truth around this whole conversation of public safety and policing, that guns are a major player in the fear that is often cited. Not unreasonably by law enforcement officers fear for my life, I, you know, you look at the distribution of calls for police and maybe four or 5% are explicitly violence in the headline, then it's like traffic stops domestic dispute, but a gun could be anywhere. So it's like, well, if any interaction is potentially a violent interaction, and I guess I understand why You need a grenade, maybe not a grenade launcher itself is a little wild, but like a shield. And so I don't have an answer either. But I do think they're intertwined as you said they're connected and to create the public safety we want, we're going to also have to contend with our long term addiction and obsession with this wild, easy access to firearms, which has made us all less safe,

Zach Norris  50:24  

and a culture of violence if we're being rude. You know, I think we exist in a country that has glorified violence in different ways. And it's about shifting that culture, in addition to shifting the actual availability of guns, you know,

Phil Goff  50:40  

and I'm looking at the time I know Parenthood is gonna have the last word, but I'm gonna go ahead and take this little hand off here, because I think this is one of the central issues moving forward. I talked about it before you can't solve mass incarceration without deal with violence, because most folks who are in prisons and jails are not low level nonviolent drug arrests, but that's just not the reality of it. Who's being put into cages? If we don't deal with how we think about violence, then we'll all we're going to have we have a bunch of platitudes a bunch of incremental elements on our entire penal system. 

But anybody does something that gets categorized as violent, by the way, breaking into a home where there isn't anybody that gets categorized as violent, right? That's going to be how we get caught up, and how we fail to meet this moment. So like, if I'm thinking about what I want everybody who's listening and watching and here with us in real time or later to be doing, I think the most important thing is don't look away. We have just begun to scratch the surface. And the only way to light through one of these moments is through a pile of bodies that will be another and another and another. And if we get discouraged, we're dispirited in this moment with just this, that we weren't worthy of the journey and we're trying to make a more perfect union. If this is a national, or even if this is a spiritual journey for individuals. We can't look away. I remember very clearly, Alton Sterling killed in Baton Rouge groups of people who loved him who cared for him. I still Get text messages every two to three weeks from folks. Right? That's 2016. Four years later, talking about the cameras went away, but I'm not done. When Gwen Carr and Sabrina Fulton talk about their loved ones they lost to police violence. 

The second most painful moment after hearing that news was when the cameras turned away. And we didn't sustain the efforts to get ourselves educated, and to be ready for the next one. So we're showing up like we're brand new to this one as a nation. We're not brand new to this. This is every couple of days, it's just every 30 or so years, we decide to care and decide to say that this is going to be the time we've now heard that every single time and I want to remind us in 92, immediately after what happened in the uprising in LA, we got the 94 crime bill in 2014. Two years later, we got Trump right. In the late 60s when police reform was a thing as was president jail reform. We don't keep that when we talked about surprisement but it wasn't major thing you know, we got Nixon. These moments are immediately Load by regressions of great moral vulgarity in this nation's history. And if we look away now, if we don't get ourselves emotionally prepared for what's next, I am very concerned that we will see the same thing. I'm your six years after Ferguson.

Baratunde Thurston  53:15  

Thank you for that. Phil. Zach, is there anything you want to offer up for people to do to be constructive to be committed on this moral journey?

Zach Norris  53:27  

I appreciate the question. Cornel West said that, you know, Justice is what love looks like in public and Stevie Wonder said love is in need of love today and saying it so beautifully. And I just know that the hearts of the folks on this call who have called in want to see a nation that is just and that is beautiful, and that is loving. And part of that I think, is resetting our priorities and I know that money doesn't move everything but we do need a reset of our values through our budgets and to To actually fund the things that keep us safe food, clothes, shelter, etc. So much of the violence often stems from people not having enough. And that's not all forms of violence. But that is a critical aspect of it. And I think we can do better to take care of the public and therefore to take care of public safety.

Baratunde Thurston  54:23  

I've been dreaming of this conversation for a while. And I want to thank Zach Norris, Dr. Phil Goff, I appreciate you as a friend, as a citizen. As a brother. Thank you for what you both have been doing and thanks for giving so generously, of your perspective and your time just now. I feel charged. I think I feel motivated and a little immobile. At the same time. There's the way Phil talked about this pattern and his ask us to Don't look away the idea that he's still in communication with previous involuntary martyrs or the family. They're of a very humbling and very emotional, very real thing. 

Zach said public safety starts with public health and nowhere cadet and should that be more clear than in the middle of a pandemic, our moral values, our budget documents as revealing of our morality has made clear, we have prioritized certain choices. over others we have prioritize right shields of a face shields and gas masks in 95. We have prioritized arrests, over stopping the spread and arresting the course of a virus. we prioritize punishment and that form of pain over healing and true accountability. And we've often done it in the name of victims who are nowhere present in the form of justice that we have practiced most of the time. There are hints, Phil reminded us that the suburb show us a little window a little more white Wakanda, a glimpse of what is possible. But even there, there is unrest in the spirit and is not entirely the vision that we want. 

And Zach reminded us that the most dismissed can often be at the center of change. The mothers and the grandmothers, who are so easily overlooked might have more power when they show up. And maybe they even doubted their power in the moment. But now we have evidence to show the closure of youth detention centers and prisons in the state of California, as crime continued to fall. And I am deeply humbled by the acknowledgement and the role of guns in all of this. I don't pretend that this is easy that you just flip a switch. You take the money from the cops, and you put it into the counselors and Shazam, new Great Society, instant society. No, no, no, no, no. It's taken a long time to create this perverse structure that we're living in. Calling public safety is going to take a while to unravel it. And guns will need to be a part of that unraveling. And so I asked that we contend with that, that we'd not look away from that either. Then we now look away from each other. There is there's great promise in this moment. There's great work ahead. There's more tears that are going to come. And the good news is, there's more of us that have yet to really step into the ring. And so I'm heartened by the idea that if more of us did that, we get more done.

Hey, you, it's me again, it's just us. And I want to say we are living in a dark time in so many ways, especially in the area of policing, punishment and public safety. Yet there is good news. 

Closed youth prisons in California reallocation of resources for sexual survivors in Minneapolis, the end of stop and frisk techniques in New York City. And the creation of restorative justice models we want to fund, not just bad policing models we want to defund. If you have examples of positive, non punitive public safety in your community, send them to us at comments at how to citizen calm. On a personal note, I am so happy to have had that conversation with Zach and Phil. At the same time. I have known them both since we were college freshmen in 1995. And I'm amazed at what they've helped create in the world, and I consider them both to be model citizens. 

Now, it's your turn. In each episode, we share things you can do internally and externally to strengthen your citizen practice. Don't worry about remembering all the details, we post them on how to citizen dot com. for this episode of keeping a safe beyond policing. 

Here's what you can do for internal actions. These are things that help you become more aware, more empathetic, more knowledgeable, and are a key step in how to citizen before you go traipsing off into the world telling other folks what to do. Here's some options for internal actions. It starts with you. So we want you to explore your own relationship to feeling safe, and living among your neighbors. Here are a set of questions you can answer. What do you need to feel safe in your community? What makes you feel unsafe in your community? How do you get to know your neighbors? When was the last time you even made eye contact with a neighbor? Has a neighbor ever made you feel unsafe? What happened and what would have made it better? Another option for internal actions and we're channeling Dr. Phil Goff here. Don't look away. get educated on how policing works, where you live. Here's a set of things you should find out How much of your city and county budget go to the police? What percentage of this would rank is this for all the spending? Who actually runs law enforcement in your area? Is it a commissioner, a chief, a sheriff, who pays their bills? What's your most local access to law enforcement? Do you even know where the closest precinct is? And who's already working on addressing the challenges in this area? Where do you live? identify who's responsible for and makes public safety decisions where you live, and find out which positions get voted on. Lastly, in this area, when is the next election for these positions in your community? who's running who aligns with your values? And the final option on internal actions? This comes from Zach, inspired by Zach. Good neighbors don't just call the cops know who you can call instead of the police. Create a resource a list of numbers you can keep on hand or enter into your phone. We have a great example in the show notes of this for non police resources to intervene in certain public safety challenges. As a bonus, you could create these alternative guides physically and digitally and share them with your neighbors, local businesses and even beyond.

Now for some external actions, we've got three groups that you can work with take their lead, and lend your assistance to their efforts to keep us safer. Dr. Phil Goff's center for policing equity has published a roadmap for exploring new models of funding public safety. It's been requested by over 950 cities across the country. It's a great starting point in his organization has high credibility with law enforcement and with community activists. So check that out and find out if your community is on lined up, lend your voice to campaign zero. Another effort to fix what's broken and policing in our country support its nationwide campaign to end police violence. They have a tool right on their website, where you can track legislation and see where your state sits in that progress bar. And the last external group, is what Zach mentioned, you can join or create an event as part of the night out for safety and liberation. That date is October 6 this year. And if you don't feel comfortable going out physically, there are online ways to also support this effort. There's even a discussion guide that you can run with your family, your community, your company, about what safety means for your community. And lastly, there is a an app and a tool built by the American Civil Liberties Union that encourages us to be supportive bystanders, and report on police interactions. The ACLU has made this easy with Their mobile justice app just seems to depend more and more on bystanders recording interactions. It's how we know so much of what is wrong. Again, check the show notes for all these details. Or you can you know, scroll back and play this again. If you'd rather have me say it out loud to you, I could understand that. 

We are so grateful to Zach Norris and Dr. Phil Goff for helping us expand our definition of public safety. Visit to explore Phil's organization or @policingequity on social media. And you can find him on Twitter at Dr. Phil Goff that's two F's. For Zach's work, visit or @EllaBakerCenter on social media. He's Zach W. Norris that's @ZachWNorris Twitter, and is that I also encourage you to read his Book, we keep us safe. And we even have an online bookshop, where you can buy it, and books by all of our guests. So again, check the show notes, or our website at where we post the episodes, we post a transcript and all of these resources and more. If you liked what you've heard here, please share the show, leave a review. Sign up for my newsletter at where I will announce upcoming live tapings and more from audience members like you. How to Citizen with Baratunde is a production of IHeartRadio Podcast, executive produced by Miles Gray. Next up Elizabeth Stewart and Baratunde Thurston, produced by Joelle Smith, edited by Justin Smith. Powered by you.


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