The Holocaust Survivor Hoping To Change American Police Culture

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tags: Holocaust, civil liberties, Police


Staub’s focus on shifting policing in America began nearly 30 years ago, with the brutal beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers in 1991. King’s treatment at the hands of police triggered mass protests. The city of Los Angeles put together a commission charged with "a full and fair examination of the structure and operation of the LAPD.” Known as the Christopher Commission, after attorney Warren Christopher (the very same who later became President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state), the commission found repetitive “use of excessive force,” among police. “We recommend a new standard of accountability,” they wrote.”Ugly incidents will not diminish until ranking officers know they will be held responsible for what happens in their sector, whether or not they personally participate.”

The commission turned to Staub to create a program for California’s police departments in an attempt to help not only heal the schism between the public and the police, but also encourage active intervention rather than bystanderism. Staub mapped his work looking at bystander passivity from World War II to modern day American policing, to try and prevent another King incident from happening again. “You have to shift the mindset, so officers realize that if they remain passive as bystanders, they are responsible for what their fellow officers do,” he told The New York Times in 1993. The paper called him an “activist research psychologist.”

But the program didn’t take off, and Staub says interest in formalizing his training program languished.

Six years ago, Mary Howell, a civil rights lawyer from New Orleans, who had a long career advocating for victims of police brutality, turned to Staub’s ideas hoping they would help her own city.

“We had gone through periods of intense crisis and reforms, which have failed in cycles,” Howell said, referring to the time before Staub. “It’s like domestic violence - a horrible thing happens, they [the police] come with flowers and candy to say ‘We’ll fix it,’ and then it happens again.”

Staub’s research has long asked the questions: how is evil committed by normal people and how can it arise from everyday life? To stop it, people must be turned from passive into active bystanders. Staub points to an interaction in Seattle back in May, where an officer forcibly removed the leg of another officer who had put his knee on a suspect’s neck during an arrest, as an example of how engaging these programs can minimize police harms against civilians.


Read entire article at NBC News

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