“You’ve Been Whitesplained!”
“Maybe you didn’t catch that you jumped into a convo specifically about transportation/police issues?” the self-described “police/community relations specialist” and bike advocate tweeted at me.
“You’ve been whitesplained!” announced the cheery AOL-style voice in my head.
It’s the voice I hear every time I am told by a white person that race and class have no bearing on a conversation. Which happens way more often than you probably think, by the way.
But to answer her query, I was very much aware that I had jumped into the #moveequity conversation to engage the prompt, “How can community groups and residents partner with law enforcement to build trust and create safer, fairer communities?”
I did so specifically because the thread, part of a national Twitter chat hosted by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership last week, was quickly racking up semi-vague statements about the importance of building relationships.
The vagueness, to be fair, was partially due to the fact that the medium was Twitter, and you can only go so deep in 140 characters. Also to be fair, none of the suggestions offered up were necessarily wrong. Stronger relationships between law enforcement and the communities they police must absolutely be forged if the country is to heal and move toward a more just state.
But in a week when we had all watched yet two more Black men die in a hail of bullets on our screens, the absence of depth, urgency, and specifics in the conversation felt jarring.
So, when I spotted the tweet arguing the best way forward was to “Develop trust and engagement via long-term relationships based on mutual respect. Can’t just make demands,” I decided to ask the most logical and pressing question: How do we do that?
In communities where there has never been any sort of trust, where the relationship is so toxic and so suppressive that residents speak of law enforcement as the equivalent of an occupying force monitoring any and all movement through the public space, and where young men join gangs because they feel so vulnerable and unprotected in the streets, how do you begin to undo that harm?
We had to go beyond bike corral projects and barbecues with officers and collaborate with city agencies to transform the culture of policing from the top down, I argued. Preventive police work and meaningful community engagement had to be valued over the number of drug or gun busts. And any and all work had to be grounded in the understanding that the deep distrust stemmed from the suspicion and brutality with which African American and Latino people were regularly treated in the public space, not the fact that they were on bikes when they were mistreated.
“Please go troll someone else,” came the reply. “I work every day to make my city better for Everyone. Peace out.”
Bikes v. Bodies
That I would essentially be #AllLivesMatter-ed and subsequently blocked by a bike advocate in a conversation specifically dedicated to transportation and policing was somewhat strange, but not surprising.
There exists a pretty significant chasm within the mobility advocacy community when it comes to issues of equity and justice. At the heart of it lies the question of where one anchors the frameworks that guide their thinking: on the bicycle or on the body moving through space on those two wheels. Read more…