You Didn’t Ask, But Here Are My Thoughts on Hamilton

By Megan Salmon

Image source: Playbill.com

I would like to start off by saying that Hamilton was a very good show theatrically. Regardless of these criticisms about the concept, I enjoyed watching the talent that was expressed on stage. However, the racial politics of the show are a little hard to separate for me, and I think it brings to light the sheer uncertainty we have as to what ways are the most appropriate when discussing American history and its deep ties to racism.

It made me pretty uncomfortable that the founding fathers were black. They weren’t black. In fact, they owned slaves. They perpetuated rhetoric and ideas that actively oppressed black bodies. To have black bodies representing these men seems entirely dishonest and ignorant to what the actual dynamics were in American history. Speaking to some of our international students, I found that the immigrant rhetoric that was used in the show to depict Alexander Hamilton combined with the fact that the actor portraying him was black led to many of them mistakenly believing that he actually was black. This creates a much different picture of American history in relation to slavery. Further, Hamilton chooses to characterize both the founding fathers and the revolutionary period with quite rose-colored glasses. Alexander Hamilton seemed so cool and relatable, with his plucky personality and his side plot with his lovers. The show made the founding fathers out to seem very trendy, rather than bringing to light the racism that they perpetuated in U.S. policy. And they did it using black bodies. It doesn’t sit well with me that Hamilton romanticized the legacy of the founding fathers using the bodies of the very people than they oppressed.

Another key issue I had with the concept of Hamilton was that it erased real black and people of color during the revolutionary period. Though white characters are portrayed using people of color, there is a complete ignorance to actual black revolutionaries, whose stories are never addressed anyhow. The Schuyler family had slaves that participated in radical revolutionary-ism and so did Washington (the only reason Hamilton didn’t was likely that he couldn’t afford them as he had previously worked on a slave ship). Why aren’t any of those characters in Hamilton? There were plenty of black revolutionaries to choose from. We want to give people of color more spaces on the stage. Hamilton is very exciting in that it does just that. Yet, it begins to seem counter-intuitive when we realize that those bodies of color are being used to commemorate their colonizer, rather than their own legacy.

Overall, the show ended up coming off as a pander to white guilt rather than anything else. A bunch of black men running around the stage and rapping to glorify white American heroes? Not to mention the medium of rap– a historically black practice that is potentially (don’t quote me here) being appropriated for the benefit of the white man. Hamilton, and Broadway in general, remains with its predominately white audience. Black people aren’t showing up in large crowds to watch Hamilton. Maybe it’s because we’re made a bit uncomfortable by our bodies being used to make Alexander Hamilton likable? Watching the show, for a minute I really felt like the black George Washington was relatable to me and my community… it wasn’t a great feeling when I had to remind myself he owned slaves.

I love making space for people of color on stage. I don’t think any of us would disagree that Hamilton has done miles for its individual actors and neither black culture, nor American culture, will ever forget the impact the show has made. As many others of many colors, I did enjoy the theatrics of the show. Still, the feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was a little off that I took with me walking out of the Hamilton theater will likely prevent me from walking back into it.

Why Being an Interpreter Made Me Cry

By: Megan Salmon

Image source: BlackEnterprise.com

This is an embarrassing blog after an embarrassing night. Nearing the end of the program, tensions are reaching their peak as we are all living together 24/7 and procrastinating our final projects is no longer an option. Today has been particularly rough for me in comparison to other days in the program, as staying up late to work on our project caused me to be too tired to do a morning workout, thus throwing off my whole day. Furthermore, my social capacity is fading severely and all I want is to be alone in my room for a few hours. Regardless, I assume this is what a peacebuilder must do when completing field work. There is a lot to be done in such a short time frame so I assume there is no room for mental breaks, de-socializing, or any of the comforts that I typically have attending an American university. This is the first reason why being an interpreter made me cry today.

I was really excited about the interpreter session because I love learning languages. I was so engaged with the session that I was even thinking to myself: Maybe at some point in my life I’ll take on this challenge. I love to learn languages, so maybe interpreting could be a side project of mine. Oh how naive I was. I neither knew about nor appreciated the amount of training and dedication it takes to be an interpreter, which is all in addition to all the training and dedication it takes just to simply learn the language. When we were asked who speaks Spanish?, I easily rose my hand because I do. In fact, I would call myself proficient in the language. I started learning Spanish at age fourteen and have been taking full-immersion classes in Spanish all throughout college. I can very effectively understand and communicate. (This is me trying to save my pride). Of course, I had a lot of reservations with interpreting Spanish, and was certainly anything but confident, but I still felt like I could communicate the interpretation to some degree.

This was a grave mistake. I ran off of the assumption that Diana would go sentence-by-sentence and I would be able to translate the sentences without having to worry to much about remembering what she said. Instead, she made her entire opening statement before I even realized it was happening. Why wouldn’t she? As an interpreting, it is not a part of my job to slow her down. She should speak like she normally would. At this point I was so flustered that I wasn’t paying enough attention to what she was saying to remember the vast majority of it. I took a hard guess at the main point of her opening statement, and began mentally strategizing for the second translation.

I decided to write a direct translation of her words for the second try, so as to not forget anything. This was, again, another horrible approach. Writing the entire sentence took entirely too long and again I wasn’t paying enough attention to what Diana was saying to interpret it. I caught a few words in my notes and tried to use my best inferencing skills to fill in the blanks. I was later informed that my inferences were again, severely wrong.

Interpreting English into Spanish as it was being spoken to me was a sensory overload. I did not have the skills to listen and speak at the exact same time, not to mention when people began talking over each other, including Diana, my own client. All of the confusion stemming from trying to interpret the English live clouded my judgement and completely stressed me out so that I couldn’t focus on anything except what a horrible interpreter I was. Attempting to interpret Diana became entirely futile and I felt like I had really done her dirty. I am not really a sad crier… but I am a frustrated crier. So there came the waterworks, and come they did.

I have a newfound appreciate for interpreters and their place in peacebuilding. Conflicts are already extremely stressful situations to handle, as is interpreting, causing an intensity of stress that I cannot even fathom. I don’t really know what to take from this experience. Maybe it was good practice of my language skills. Maybe it was good practice working in high-stress situations. But maybe, and I think this may be my primary takeaway, it was a sign that I should never pursue interpreting.

Decolonizing English from a Sociolinguistic Perspective

Image source: SleepAdvisor.org

By: Megan Salmon

I really like the idea of decolonization. While it has its challenges and uncertainties of implication, decolonization remains an imperative means to the end of a more equitable and accessible society. In order to decolonize ourselves, we must re-examine every approach we take to the world around it. This doesn’t necessarily mean every approach we take must be replaced. Instead, decolonization asks us to simply examine our approaches, understand the historical reasons we take them, and recognize that they give us privilege though they are arbitrary in comparison to any other approach. In class today, we discussed a few of many different approaches worthy of re-examining, such as education, mathematics, and language.

As an enthusiastic polyglot with a background in Hispanic linguistics, I was especially intrigued by the language aspect. What makes a language attractive? What kills it? Of course, English is the language of imperialism so it is attractive because a) it is the language of the colonizer, who holds the power and b) it is the language of the colonizee, so its usage is widespread therefore acquisition is strategically sound. Thus, English has become an international lingua franca, resulting in many non-English speakers (for lack of a better, less colonized word) emphasizing the acquisition of English for economic, social and political gains. There is a reason that L1 (first language) Spanish speakers in the United States drop off at the third generation. The first generation arrives speaking Spanish but wants their children (second generation) to have better opportunities so they encourage English language acquisition, but still require them to speak Spanish for communication. Once their children have children (third generation), English acquisition is still emphasized for opportunity, but the requirement of Spanish fades as it is no longer necessary for parent-child communication. The loss of native languages makes strategic sense. However, that’s not to say it isn’t rooted in problematic colonial standards of assimilation. This is where the job of language decolonization begins.

However, when we discussed language decolonization in class, we put focus on standard languages other than English rather than specific dialects or varieties of languages. As a linguistic student, all I could think about was my experience with African American Vernacular English (AAVE). AAVE is a variety of English that exists within the Black community of the United States that includes its own phonetics, lexicons, grammar, and syntax. It is the “slang” or “street talk” at best, and “broken English” at worst, that we often hear black American rappers, celebrities, community members and other informal actors using to communicate. For example, where a General American English (GAE, or standard English) speaker may say There isn’t anything going on, an AAVE speaker may instead say Ain’t nothing going on. Believe it or not, there are rules to this dialect, just like GAE, that dictate what is communicable and what isn’t. In fact, AAVE is a more technically complicated dialect of English than GAE because of its unique and intricate distinctions of tenses and aspects (chronology). For example, an AAVE speaker could use any of the follow sentences to describe an event in the past tense:

“I been bought it,” “I done bought it,” “I did buy it,” “I do buy it.”* Each of these sentences in “broken English” actually specifies a different point in the past tense, ranging from far into the past to the very recent past, so they all mean very different things. GAE speakers will say “I bought it” for every single one of these sentences in the past tense and does not have any distinction whatsoever as to when in the past the even occurred. This is just one example as to how AAVE is a more technically complicated dialect of English to understand and speak than GAE.

So why is it stigmatized? Why are AAVE speakers reduced to being “uneducated?” Why is AAVE-origin slang looked down upon? Again, this is pretty obvious, as it is in the title. AAVE is predominately spoken by African Americans, or black people. Reducing the AAVE dialect of black Americans to an uneducated, lazy, sometimes even “thuggish” degradation of English is colonialism at work. Black parents teach their children to code switch between AAVE in informal situations and GAE in formal situations, and even to “white it up” by using GAE in situations where structural racism becomes a direct and immediate threat, such as a confrontation with a police officer. Does that process sound familiar?

Thus, I firmly believe that AAVE and other dialects of English, as well as other marginalized dialects of many colonial languages, have a place at the table of decolonization. We can see a similar phenomenon with the distinction of high and low German— high being the standardized dialect of typically the upper class, and low being the “informal” dialect of historically lower-class citizens. Yes, they are dialects of colonial languages, but they are specifically the dialects of colonized (or in low German’s case, marginalized) peoples. These dialects suffer, too. AAVE was derived from the forced acquisition of the English on African American slaves combined with phonetic, lexical, grammatical, and syntactic systems from various African languages. It was further distinguished from GAE through segregation as blacks were most typically exposed to other blacks who were AAVE speakers and less exposed to white GAE speakers.

Now, I am not exactly arguing for teaching AAVE in schools in the name of decolonization. Far from it, the mode of AAVE acquisition echoes the methods of disseminating information by black slaves in the United States: word of mouth. Histories, entertainment, education, and other forms of information were taught primarily by word of mouth in the black community for centuries. Institutionalizing the use of AAVE now would just be colonizing it. I am simply asking for parents, educators, authority figures, and any other key perpetuators of GAE dominance this: to examine their use of GAE in comparison to AAVE, understand the historical reasons behind the stigmatization of AAVE, and recognize the privileges they hold as GAE speakers though it is arbitrary in comparison to AAVE.

Now I done told ya.

*Source of examples: Wikipedia.org

Personal Development in the Social Development Field

By Megan Salmon

By: Megan Salmon

It’s been a rough week in class so far. Between visiting prisons, a police station, and hearing a survivor’s story, there has been a lot to take in and I’m still processing it all. For that reason, I’m choosing not to write about one of those heavy topics today (I’ll revisit later) and instead opt for something lighter: a self-reflection.

In the field of peacebuilding, we focus on building up communities and changing structures of power. Our aim is to develop social settings in which all have the equal opportunity to thrive. Yet, this definition changes so often as we progress as a society. There are aspects of peacebuilding that I know couldn’t have existed ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. There are identities that we recognize today that we hadn’t in the past. There are practices that we understand as problematic that we didn’t in the past. This is the only way we can grow: by constantly checking ourselves and adjusting our actions as we gain knowledge. In this blog I am going to be a little selfish and evaluate my own growth.

As mentioned in class today, Guntram Herb taught me in the past as my International and Global Studies 101 professor. At the time, it was my first semester of college, my first time taking a course in my field of study, my first time being away from home, my first time being around the level of privilege at Middlebury, etc, etc. I was different than I am now. The first day of IGS 101 Professors Herb and Wyatt posed the question: what does it mean to be a global citizen? As we spoke in small groups and went around the room, the typical twenty-first century rhetoric of cultural diversity spun around the room and made its way onto the board. Learning a language, traveling abroad, studying cultures… we heard it all. I had yet to understand the extent of the implications of the concept of “global citizenry,” nor had I yet to understand the agency that a typical Middlebury student has.

Because at the time I bought it. I was a young IGS major fresh into college and excited to change the world. I didn’t quite realize yet that I wanted to change the world in a way that mirrored only those that I had previously studied without giving due respect to movers and shakers around the world. Either way, I had some concept of what a global citizen was and it was my goal to achieve that status.

Just two years later, I am a junior with a job, an internship, and much more academic experience crossing cultural bounds than when I was in IGS 101. As we discussed in class, I now question the circulated concept of a “global citizen.” Who came up with the idea and why? Who is it accessible to? Who has already reached the status and who has to work for it? These are questions that just two years ago, although I thought I was pretty “woke,” I wouldn’t have asked myself. Now I critique global citizenship as a neoliberal badge of honor to bestow upon white, wealthy Westerners who have the money and time to “immerse” themselves in “global culture” by using their funds to travel. Achieving our conception of “global citizenry” isn’t accessible people of color, women, and people struggling economically because they cannot move through the world as fluidly as white, wealthy Westerners.

I have grown enough to ask these questions with every new concept I learn, and I only realized this personal development today in class. It’s not exactly a pat on the back, but it is a recognition that I have gone through the process of checking myself and adjusting my actions as I gained knowledge. This is a part of the peacebuilding process, which is why it is such a dynamic field. There will always be work to be done and new perspectives to be considered. For me, this was a reminder that I need to constantly re-evaluate my position in peacebuilding and how I can improve my understanding of a situation. This cycle of evaluation and personal development is never-ending, but ever-necessary. It is crucial for peacebuilders to undertake so that we may adhere to our principles, which of course, will also change. What will I learn in the next two years?

You gave me hope, Lou Hammond

By Megan Salmon

Image source: CBS News

By: Megan Salmon

I can’t say I’m particularly optimistic about the prison system in the United States. Again, I bring this perspective as a black woman who has seen too many lives in my community get completely overturned by the criminal justice system. Today’s class sessions reinforced for me what a mammoth of a problem this is for our black and brown brothers. The statistic Julie Reynolds Martinez shared about race in prison was truly daunting: 1 in 15 black men over the age of 18 have been in prison. I knew the rates were ridiculous, but seeing the numbers in front of my face left me a little shell-shocked.

As the presentation continued, my pessimism only really seemed to grow. There was an exact moment when I felt particularly hopeless– Julie asked us: do you think it’s possible to come out of prison a better person? The room was silent. At first, I didn’t say anything. I do think it’s possible to come out of prison a better person. In fact, I strive for any person entering the criminal justice system to exit it having learned from the experience and using that to make positive changes. But I stayed silent because I felt like I couldn’t answer that question without paying a major acknowledgement to the inequalities and privileges that our prisoners of color face and how that affects what they are like coming out of prison (if they are even lucky enough to break the cycle and get out).

We must acknowledge the privileges that white prisoners have when it comes to “coming out a better person.” Everyone loves a redemption arc when it’s white. Yet, for everyone else, the process is much more difficult. Being brown or black adds on a lot of stigmas after getting out of prison that are hard to fight. I imagine that many black and brown ex-cons see it as futile. They’ll always see me as a criminal anyway. “Coming out a better person” and contributing to society is difficult when you feel as though society will just reject you anyway. Further than that, many black and brown prisoners do not have anywhere near the amount of resources that white prisoners have. Since prisoners of color all to often have ended up in prison as a part of a spiraling poverty cycle, they enter prison lacking a lot of agency that is further reduced once they leave. White people are more likely to have access to education, (mental) health care, money and professional skills than people of color. Thus, the transition to “coming out a better person” is likely easier for white prisoners than prisoners of color.

This is rather bleak. I came out of that session feeling like I needed to make a change, but also quite defeated overall. Lou Hammond’s talk afterward was a beacon of light for my clouded sense of hope. A brown man who made it out of prison. Not only out of prison, but also out of a gang. He defied the odds and it all started by arbitrary act of kindness– a corrections officer simply tying his shoe. However, though this act of kindness was rather small and arbitrary, it was calculated in a way that made effective change possible. A CO has a lot of power over prisoners which often leads to dehumanization. Further, Lou was a notorious gangster who would often not be respected by anyone– much less any type of officer of the law.This particular CO used the power dynamics to turn the situation around reach out to Lou which triggered a him to rethink his purpose. This is not to minimize Lou; in fact, Lou’s journey to where he is today is nothing short of remarkable. It was his motivation to learn from his experience and use it make a positive change that broke the cycle. It was this very motivation that saved lives.

I am a little more optimistic now about the prison system. Lou’s story showed me that even against all odds and obstacles, it is very possible for prisoners of color to escape the cycle and even effect their own positive change because of it. I knew this was possible, but as the prison system is designed to keep our black and brown folk within its walls, sometimes the mission seems futile. Our prisoners here in the United States have so much to offer through their experiences. It is our job to give them the opportunity to do so.

What exactly are we “restoring?”

Image source: Houston Chronicle

By: Megan Salmon

CONTENT WARNING: This blog post contains sensitive content about sexual assault.

And more importantly, why? Restorative justice is a difficult topic to grapple and I am still grappling with it. I understand either side of the argument, and as with many situations in peacebuilding, the answer lies in what causes the least harm. With this approach, I tackle restorative justice. It was a topic that I didn’t know too much about previously other than it was: (1) an alternative to our monstrous prison problem and, (2) that it was typically used for “mediating” situations of sexual assault. I argue that the first point is a strength of restorative justice while the second is where we fail our victims (or, with the term restorative justice prefers to use, “people who were harmed”) with its practice.

First and foremost: I like the idea of restorative justice. How could any peacebuilder not? It is a method that, if used properly, will help to divert the “school-to-prison pipeline.” I fully believe that we punish far too many people for far too long and seldom with good reason. In the United States we have a huge problem with our black boys and men being punished with unjust sentences that don’t fit the crime. The first taste of “crime” begins in elementary school when the teacher accuses Ray of being ” rowdy” and “disruptive.” Ray is sent to the principle’s office and given detention. The reasons behind his acting out are never addressed and instead are left to be punished, leading him to continue to act out in increasingly risky ways. What does it matter anyway? They already think I’m trouble, he figures. They’re going to punish me either way. This cycle spirals until Ray enters the juvenile correctional system, and soon after being released, re-enters into the adult correctional facilities.

What if we addressed why Ray was being “rowdy” and “disruptive” in the first place? Let’s take it a step further: what is we addressed why Ray is continually called out by Mrs. Johnson, when Bryce and Chad are acting in the same exact way? In this space, restorative justice has a place. Addressing Ray’s behavior while at the same time calling Mrs. Johnson’s discipline could potentially lead to Ray understanding the reasons behind his acting out and cause Mrs. Johnson to realize what system her (hopefully) unintentional targeting contributes to. Here I see the value of restorative justice. Everybody wins.

Yet, in another town, a college town in fact, Jane goes to a party and gets very drunk, to the point of blackout. Brad is a little tipsy but it’s his party so he keeps control. Jane and Brad hook up and Jane very messily goes along with it, though it is clear she isn’t really present. The next day, when Jane doesn’t remember what happened to her, she reports the incident and eventually, ends up going through the process of restorative justice with Brad. Through revisiting the experience, Jane is traumatized and suffers from PTSD. Brad, though he feels sorry about what he’s done, is just happy that after apologizing, he can continue school and come out of the situation relatively unharmed. Jane can’t see Brad without being re-traumatized and can’t do anything about it because restorative justice has already “punished” Brad. Jane suffers enough that she must drop out of school, and Brad graduates.

It is here where I begin to have problems with restorative justice. In this situation, Jane went through a traumatic experience and was in a very fragile state in the time after. By asking Jane to revisit the situation, face Brad, and allow him to apologize puts her mental health in direct danger. In fragile situations where the state of the victim is at stake, I no longer feel comfortable “risking it” with restorative justice.

I acknowledge that these two situations are very much so cherry-picked and neither is exactly how a situation will always play out. However, in the first situation, though Ray is a victim of a structurally racist system, a visit to the principle’s office does not put him at risk for traumatization in the same way that Jane was. This is where my gripe with restorative justice lies. I do not think the risk is worth it for victims and survivors. As a peacebuilder, I want to work toward the root of the problem and always make somewhat of a positive impact, no matter how big or small. Restorative justice in very sensitive cases runs the risk of doing more harm than good. Thus, I hope that we can work to find a better way.

Culture, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights

Image source: www.amnesty.org/en/

Disclaimer: These opinions are all my own and do not reflect Amnesty International as an organization.

By: Megan Salmon

Confession: I have always been passionate about human rights, I work closely with Amnesty International, and I want my future career to be in human rights. Thus, I enter this conversation acknowledging that I have some preconceived biases and that I have a high stake in this conversation. It is for this reason that I write this blog as I am of the opinion that those of us that want to work in international human rights must carefully consider what they are really doing and its implications, and in some cases, rethinking the entire field. This is going to be difficult for me. Let’s begin.

In today’s class with Kevin Avruch about culture in relation to conflict resolution, we had an in-depth conversation about what exactly culture is and what that means to us as peacebuilders. Of course, when we discuss culture (especially indigenous/native cultures), there are always very distinct arguments coming from both the cultural universalist and the cultural relativist sides. The universalist argues “in the end, we’re all humans with the same rights. There exist oppressive flaws in some cultures that infringe on these human rights which we must work to change.” On the other hand, the relativist argues “who are we to govern culture? Every culture is human and valid, so human rights do not exist in a singular form. We must understand and allow cultures that differ from our own.”

I take issue with each of these positions. As someone who aims for a career in human rights, I have often heard the rhetoric of the universalist, and up until I took a Middlebury course of international humanitarianism (shout out to Professor Stroup), I bought into it. I am no longer so sure and the short time we devoted to this topic in class today did not seem to do it justice. It is for this reason that I have taken the challenge upon myself to further reflect on human rights and culture and the implications of leaning toward either viewpoint.

First and foremost, the universalist argument is just as idealistic as it is Western-centric. There is no concealing this. It is naive to convince oneself that the human race is so similar in its conceptions of reality that human rights will function in the same manner in each society. The world is so vast and the human experience differs in every person that experiences it. How can we argue that there are basic ideals that can and will persist in the same manner in every corner of the world? Further, it is privileged thinkers in the West who have the agency and resources to discuss, research, and consider the field of human rights so what we generally accept as basic human rights must be examined through this lens. Human rights are shaped by their holders, so it is nearly impossible to define a set of “basic” human rights that everyone views as essential.

On the other hand, the relativist argument is just as retroactive as it is ignorant. In the field of human rights, it is safe to say that although there is a lot of work to be done, we have come far with making the world a more equal place. If we simply validate every culture no matter what it is, what do we make of the progress we have made with female genital mutilation in Africa, Asia and the Middle East? Its logic reverses the progress that we have made for international egalitarianism. Further, it ignores the very fact that oppression, degradation, torture, enslavement, murder, etc. etc. are all morally wrong in a sort of transcendental way that all humans and cultures innately understand in some form or another. While the infanticide exists in some Indian cultures, those individual cultures still recognize that murder is wrong. They simply do not see infanticide as murder. Arguing that this part of the culture is still valid is ignorant to the fact that murder is simply morally wrong on a transcendental basis.

So are peacebuilders and human rights advocates, where are we to lean? Both seem like bleak options. I hope to explore this topic further as we dive deeper into the program, and I look forward to writing another blog with a more exhaustive perspective on this topic. However, at the moment, these are my thoughts and I leave you with them:

As peacebuilders, human rights activists, and general international do-gooders, we must always address our biases first before deciding whether a practice in a culture should be altered. We must ask ourselves, for example, if we view hijabs as oppressive because we fear them, or because we are questioning the patriarchy that created them. Further, we must analyze whether they are still being used for oppression, or if they have become a reclamation of identity and rebellion for the community, much like the term “queer” for the LGBTQ+ community. This is just one case with many nuances and implications, but it demonstrates that even a single aspect of culture can do multiple things for the field of human rights. In summation, through reflection, objectivity, collaboration, and time, we can hopefully begin to uncover the answers. At the moment, I still believe in basic human rights that every single person on this planet should have access to. Exactly what those rights are, however, is yet to be explored through this program. Now, I am going to sit in bed and rethink this entire blog post.

Good Cops Do Exist

***EDIT 2020: This piece no longer reflects my views on policing.

Dajuan Howze, 13, battles for the ball against Pittsburgh Police officer Gino Perry while Zone 5 police commander Jason Lando waches. The officers played a pick up basketball game with local youth during the Homewood Community Day celebration.
Source: https://www.publicsource.org/police-push-community-outreach-revised-anti-violence-strategy/

By: Megan Salmon

To some, this is an obvious statement, even going so far as to say that the majority or all cops are good. However, for many of us on the political left, especially in this field of peacebuilding, and including myself, this statement is radical. As a black woman whose father has been unjustly harassed by police forces due to the color of his skin, I do have my reservations with the law enforcement and have never really looked to them for a responsibility in violence prevention. Cops are just here to clean up society from the bad guys, right?

Well yes, that is correct. But again, many of us lefties question if the bad guys being cleaned up are truly the bad guys. And we’re right to question that. Much too often, the people imprisoned are not the real bad guys, but simply marginalized by an institutionally racist system. Basic stuff, of course. This is hard to prevent though. As much as we like to blame police for these racist practices (which, don’t get me wrong, in some individual cases we can), the racist system is entirely too large to place the burden solely on police practices. They are a symptom of a much larger problem of a structurally racist society which will take generations and generations to fix. Yet, people are still dying and wasting their lives away in unjust prison sentences. How can we rectify the system of policing now when the structurally racist system will take so long to fix?

That is where the role of law enforcement in violence prevention steps in. In order to reduce the overall negative effects of racist police practices in the near future, we need law enforcement to familiarize, humanize, and normalize itself with its communities. Programs such as CASP open doors to relationships between the community and its protectors so that there is more trust in the law enforcement system, less youths turn to violence, and there are less people for biased individual cops to harass.

In order to do this, as mentioned in today’s lecture, law enforcement must understand the community and outreach itself to it. Understanding the community will familiarize the enforcers with the enforcees so that police are able to refine their enforcement techniques in accordance with the context of their town. Outreach to the community will further humanize the police force so civilians feel more comfortable with their presence– preventing situations like Brazilian favelas where trust in law enforcement is so low that it has become a situation of increased violence. Finally, and this is where I disagree with the lecture today, demilitarization of the police will normalize officers to citizens, solidifying the whole process. It will work to reduce the “god complex” that many individual (and even departments of) police, especially in small towns, hold on to in order to create fear.

Of course, this is not a full solution to the question of racially-charged police brutality. It is however, a start. Law enforcement can and should have a role in violence prevention. And yes, good cops do exist.

Am I Peaceful?

By Megan Salmon

I like to think so. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to work in international human rights and social justice. Yes, it’s a very strange career goal for a first grader, but when I saw a documentary about Martin Luther King Jr., I felt like I had a calling. I’ve always said that I am 100% dedicated to serving anyone and everyone the rights and peace that they deserve. Social justice and peace became an integral part of my identity.

And yet, I guess I’m not so sure. I’ve also been a powerlifter my whole life. I wouldn’t define powerlifting as the opposite of peace, but if you can imagine a gym filled with huge men and women thriving on the idea that they are physically strong enough to win any fight that comes their way, you may not assume it is peaceful either. Further, I am the captain of my rugby team. It’s competitive, impulsive, violent, dirty and overall just a complete mess of people knocking each other as hard as they can to the ground. I think I’m peaceful but at the same time I feel very attached to these aggressive physical outlets in my life. There was a time while I was growing up that I became unsure of my own assertion that I was 100% dedicated to peace. How could someone with such “violent” interests be a peacemaker?

I started to realize, as I’m sure you do reading this, that these are just sports and they are not reality. Sure, I’ve broken a few girls bones in my day. Maybe even a lot of bones. But that doesn’t mean I’m not peaceful since they’re just sports, right? I could still say I was 100% dedicated to peace. This is where I began to have a problem.

If I continued to assert that I was 100% dedicated to peace, I had no evidence as to why. I knew that my aggressive sports history wasn’t evidence as to why not, but I realized that I wasn’t proving myself to be an advocate for peace. A peaceful person brings peace about to others, not just says that they are dedicated to it. I began volunteering, working with Amnesty International, advocating for political causes that served social justice, and local nonprofits that made real connections with people. I learned that this is what being “peaceful” really was, if you could even call it that. It wasn’t because I said I supported peace, but because I stepped out of my house and tried to make someone else’s day better each day. To me, this is the real intention behind peacebuilding, and I think SPP is going to help me discover more effective and larger-scale ways to do just that.

I like to think I’m peaceful, and not just because I support social justice, human rights or peace. I like to think I’m peaceful because I’m finally learning how to extend that support into real change for others.