With the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement and high-profile cases of police brutality of African-Americans prevalent in the media, the subject of racism and policing is at the forefront of American life. Philip Atiba Goff recently recorded a dynamic TED Talk, “How We Can Turn Racism into a Solveable Problem—and Improve Policing” in Vancouver.
Goff is the inaugural Franklin A. Thomas Professor in Policing Equity at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is also the co-founder and president of the Center for Policing Equity. The Russell Sage Foundation is a longtime supporter of Goff’s work. He was a visiting scholar at the foundation during the 2008-2009 academic year and served as a member of the Racial Bias in Policing Working Group. RSF has underwritten Goff’s research on racial bias in policing, racial profiling, and public trust in law enforcement.
In his TED talk, Goff cites statistics demonstrating that blacks are two to four times more likely to experience use of force by police and make up a disproportionate amount of the 20% of Americans who have encounters with the police each year. Goff asserts that the way we have defined racism, as a collection of problematic thoughts and feelings, has led to the conclusion that racism is an intractable problem. He suggests that we adjust our definition of racism to focus on racist behaviors that harm those who are targeted for abuse, reminding viewers that behaviors, unlike thoughts or emotions, are measurable and can therefore be addressed. Goff describes the Center for Policing Equity’s CompStat for Justice, which builds upon the CompStat database that law enforcement agencies use to track data to help them more effectively direct their resources to combat crime. This new database, which Goff calls a “data-driven vaccine against racial disparities in policing,” will serve as the statistical foundation for new strategies to redress racial bias in policing. Goff’s talk and the work of the Center for Policing Equity deserve attention at this moment when innovative solutions to seemingly intractable problems are both welcome and necessary.