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Police Reform advocacy group tackles complexities of justice system

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

How students are staying informed about the politics around police brutality


Over the summer, protests against police brutality have erupted across the country, sparking calls for major reforms to our justice system. In the wake of a resurging Black Lives Matter movement, demands for change to the justice system have sparked across the country, some calling for reform, others for abolition. YAPA’s police reform advocacy group hopes to do their part in speaking out.

Led by Mentor Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas (Ed. D.), the group aims to educate the public about police reform policies and why they are necessary. As such, the group has split into two groups — one resource group to gather information to help educate people about the issue, and a polling group to evaluate populations that would be interested in learning about these topics.

“That's the advocacy we're doing rather than trying to push for a particular bill or a particular action. We're trying to educate ourselves and others around us,” Cohn-Vargas said. “We're really trying to take a well rounded view of this topic.”

The topic of police reform is incredibly complex, involving a variety of fields and combining multiple different social and economic controversies. The group initially found it difficult to tackle such a large issue in their advocacy work. The Bay Area has had its own history with police brutality and mass incarceration, meaning a lot was at stake for this group and the impact they would have on their community.

“As we started looking more and more into the topic, delving into the rabbit hole, we started to understand that it was really critical to learn more about all the systems working together,” said student leader Nelson Mu. “We have been focusing, obviously, on police reform, but we've also expanded our mission to be about education because it's hard to navigate this current political climate without understanding what is actually at stake here and what's really going on.”

Despite the inherent challenges that come with such a controversial and consequential topic, the numerous perspectives provided by each group member allowed for a wide range of perspectives rooted in personal experiences with police, privilege, and race. Additionally, the group brought in three outside speakers, each providing their own views on the topic.

“One of our speakers we had [was a] black police officer, and that sort of gave us a new perspective on police officers and their intentions,” said student Natalie Lager, a member of the group. “He wanted to help reform from the inside out, and we'd never really thought of that before. He was trying to work to make the policing institution a better place starting with the people that work there, so that incidents of racism and discrimination aren't happening at that level.”

Specifically, policies such as bias training, defunding, and community review boards were all brought up by speakers and students, allowing for discussion on the pros and cons of each of the various policies brought up. Despite differences in ideas, the group was able to build off of one another and engage in constructive debate.

“There was dialogue back and forth with one of the presenters where one of our participants didn't agree with something he said, and he didn't agree with something she said, but it was done so respectfully,” Cohn-Vargas said. “You don't have to always agree, but you can have respectful dialogue across different ideas.”

In spite of recent events, students have still taken the opportunity to come together and make positive change within their communities. Despite the many nuances and complexities of the topic, the Police Reform advocacy group has displayed the importance of staying engaged in current events and understanding the systems in place around us.

“We are in a time of reckoning where we don't have the option to just turn our eyes away,” Mu said. “We're at a crossroads, really. We can choose to have a better future for everyone or we can choose to continue living under a regressive system that doesn't treat everybody with the dignity that every human deserves.”

Written By Elizabeth Lee

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