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October 3, 2016

How do different racial groups view the police?

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Essential question

How do different racial and socio-economic communities view the role of police?


Only one-third of African Americans think the police are doing an excellent job, compared to roughly three quarters of white people, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

But Newark, New Jersey Mayor Ras Baraka has worked to change those numbers. Baraka says it is important to help improve racial relations in his community, including changing the culture of the police department while also giving law enforcement the support they need.

“I think [what] we want is community policing and police officers who care about the community that they live in, who think that they’re part of a community, and not an occupying force in a community,” Baraka said.

Since Baraka took office two years ago, the city of Newark has made it easier to access the internal affairs division so that residents feel more comfortable making complaints about police conduct. The city has also instituted sensitivity training for new recruits and encourages police officers to live in the communities they are policing longer than they normally do.

Another key part of Baraka’s plan for Newark includes improving the economy. The city has set up cooperatives, which give residents partial ownership of their own businesses.

“We’re experimenting and trying to do the best that we can with the ideas that we have,” Baraka said.


Key terms

cooperative — a farm, business, or other organization that is owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits or benefits

de-escalation training — training used by law enforcement during a potentially dangerous or threatening situation in an attempt to prevent a suspect from causing harm to themselves or others

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. Why are tensions between police and African American communities high at the moment?
  2. What can happen if people within a community don’t trust law enforcement?
  3. What are some ways to strengthen the relationship between police and the community they serve?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Do you think Mayor Ras Baraka’s efforts to reform Newark’s policing will improve community relations in the long term?
  2. Why do you think Newark encourages police to live in the communities they serve?
  3. How could Mayor Baraka’s efforts be replicated in other parts of the country?
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