A unique opportunity for strategic philanthropy: Tackling racial profiling

In this post, Jill Reichstein gives her blog spot over to John Spierings, Executive Officer of the Reichstein Foundation. This is an extract from an article by John Spierings originally published Generosity Magazine, August 2015.

The United States has been galvanised recently by a series of high profile police shootings of unarmed black Americans. Events in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Los Angeles and other cities have highlighted very tense racial relations between law enforcement authorities and communities of colour.

Australians pride themselves that similar events and such serious erosion of public trust and confidence could not happen here.

However the truth is that our criminal justice system, from policing through to courts to our corrections institutions, is heavily racialised; perhaps best exemplified by appalling rates of Indigenous over-incarceration in our prisons.

But less well known is the potential systemic breakdown in trust and relationships between some African Australia communities and police.

If such a breakdown occurred it would result in deep alienation and disengagement; social exclusion and high levels of distrust.

It would also reflect ineffective and costly policing.

In 2013 a Federal Court race discrimination case highlighted allegations of systemic racism within the Victorian police force, most particularly racial profiling of African Australians.

Six young men alleged that while living in and around Flemington and North Melbourne they were subjected to assaults and racial taunts, and were regularly stopped and questioned by police in circumstances where a non-African would not have been stopped and questioned.

They claimed racial profiling by police meant individuals were targeted on the basis of the supposed criminal propensity of an entire racial or ethnic group, rather than for any legitimate policing reason.

Police denied this.

Key advocates in the case included the young men who had been victimised, lawyers at the Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre (FKCLC) and Peter Seidel, the public interest law partner at leading law firm, Arnold Bloch Liebler.

A vital part in settling this case was the collation and analysis of police data provided as part of the ‘discovery’ process that made clear African Australian youth in the Flemington and North Melbourne area were 2.5 times more likely to be stopped by police than other groups despite having a lower crime rate.

The case was settled on the morning of the initial Federal Court hearing, with Victoria Police agreeing to undertake major reviews of its approaches and practices.

These reviews recommended a series of sweeping reforms including:

– Australia’s first trial of stop and search receipting

– A data collection and monitoring program

– Policy reforms concerning police field contacts

– Substantial reform of cross cultural training provided within Victoria Police.

Overall, Victoria Police’s response to the public review of its field contact and cross cultural education policies is indicative of a genuine intention to address racism and racial profiling.

There is now the possibility of a genuine reduction in racism and racial profiling by Victoria Police members as well as increasing the overall fairness of and human rights compliance by police members.

And where does this fit with the mission of philanthropy?

In response to an overture from Seidel, private donors and the Reichstein Foundation stepped up to fund the forensic data research analysis that helped to expose systemic racial profiling.

Seidel says this was an “exquisitely timed intercession,” without which “we could not possibly have reached what the Chief Commissioner recently described as a ‘waypoint’ of radical change for Victoria Police – in its training, its openness to scrutiny and in all its public interactions.”

And philanthropies including the The Myer Foundation, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, the Jack Brockhoff Foundation and private donors have taken the next step and supported leaders of those experiencing victimisation, including Daniel Haile-Michael (pictured above) and Maki Issa, to provide peer support, mentoring and vital community outreach to African Australian youth experiencing discrimination and alienation.

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