Community Developer Reaches for Understanding
INTERVIEW. US CITIES
LOS ANGELES — FOR 26 years, Bob Jones has been executive director of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) for southern California.Founded nationally in 1927 as a response to religious intolerance, NCCJ's chapter here has responded to dramatic demographic changes by shifting its focus to racial hatred and bigotry. During Mr. Jones's tenure, the NCCJ developed several innovative programs for law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Among them: family-crisis intervention training for police; neighborhood watch; victim and witness assistance programs; and race-relations training for Los Angeles airport police. In the wake of the police beating of a black motorist here last March, Jones was appointed to a citizen's advisory committee to help the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department implement race-relation strategies recommended by the Christopher Commission. Jones spoke with the Monitor about race problems just prior to retiring from the NCCJ last month. What can help this city/society recognize the factors of racism? We are in a sense a step ahead to have such an incident [the beating of Rodney King] and its investigation so thoroughly acknowledge the prevalence of racism in law enforcement. Now it is on the table that [racism] must be dealt with very forthrightly and formally if the police are going to improve. Police now realize that the outlaws they have in their departments cannot be tolerated as they have in the past. What behaviors can we put under the umbrella term "racism?" Racial attitudes that cause harm to people - very severe, negative attitudes about people that get acted out quite often. Racism is endemic to every institution in this country but police are in a particularly vulnerable position. Is that really a revelation? I do feel that racism is more acted out in the last dozen years than ever before. What are the reasons? I think government has to accept responsibility for the trend. They've moved civil rights way down the list of priorities, allowing education and business to follow suit. We have turned back the clock in affirmative action and equal opportunity employment, which has been exacerbated by the current economic downturn. When the civil rights groups lost several key leaders - Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy - the momentum was lost. What insights about race relations have you gleaned from your program? Our organization has tried to be pro-active in training both students and adults to be ready ahead of time in dealing with racial flare-ups. Such as? Last year at Santa Monica High School, a hate letter was sent to 700 parents describing Latinos as lazy incompetents. The community tension that followed was so strong several TV stations sent mobile units waiting to catch the flare-ups at school. Several students trained in our program called meetings between Latinos and other students to say this was not the way the majority of white students felt. They talked seriously about developing a meeting of minds rather than fists. What did you teach them that was so useful? Various techniques that show prejudice and stereotyping is just a lazy way of thinking. During workshops we send students from one race out of the room while others draw up a list of stereotypes about that group. After Latinos, blacks, Asians, and whites see what is said about them, there is a lot of anger. Then when we move them to smaller groups for dialogue, each discovers for himself that most do not fit those stereotypes. How does this translate to police work? We have several training programs that put the police in typically immigrant situations such as filling out forms in a foreign language or being given directions they can't understand. That goes far in developing empathy. I have been advising the LAPD [Los Angeles Police Department] for many years about the necessity of human-relations training to produce recruits that can handle assignments relatively free of prejudice.