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Alice in Wonderland – can we hope for change or is it a mirage?

I know many of you, like me, are anxiously watching the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer accused of killing George Floyd. We know that this case is putting a system on trial, not just the accused. This system has a long history that is surprisingly overt in its racist foundations and I’ve been shocked to further learn just how deeply rooted in racism it is, not to mention classicism and xenophobia!

Listen to Throughline’s latest episode on NPR: “Policing in America” to hear a chilling discussion with historian, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, about the history of policing in North America. The American model has been exported all over the world and infects so much of our global notions of what a police force does so it’s important to understand the roots of this system.

When considering whether the current moment of crisis in North American policing offered any sense of optimism for the future, Khalil Gibran Muhammad recalled the words of Kenneth Clarke, testifying at Brown v Board of Education who said that “when reading the report of the 1919 riot in Chicago it is as if I am reading the report of the Harlem riot of 1943, the report of the McCone Commission report of the Watts Riot of 1965…”

“I must again in candor say to you members of the commission, it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland, with the same moving picture being shown over and over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations, and the same inaction.” Kenneth Clarke

Muhammad has no faith that simply pointing out the problem of systemic racism will make any real difference to lives of racialized people because the problem has been understood for 100 years, yet despite the evidence recommendations for change have been ignored or frustrated.

But he does feel that what is possible in this moment is the recognition that police, whether as individuals or as a system, are incapable of fixing themselves. And in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, more white people are asking the necessary question:

“Do white people still want the police to protect their interests over the rights and dignity and lives of black, brown, indigenous and Asian people. – Khalil Gibran Muhammad

A sobering reminder that the struggle for justice is costly, time-consuming and wide-ranging in scope. After listening to this episode, I found myself actually more hopeful than I would have expected. I guess a realistic assessment of what is at stake and what is needed, always enables one to be better prepared.

A reality check can be empowering. I guess this is what people like anti-Apartheid hero, Desmond Tutu, means when he talks about “hope against hope”.


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