I'll just be honest: I'm a little frustrated with the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
While the awareness is definitely appreciated, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. This is especially true given the lack of direction among my protesting peers.
Now, I'm not saying I agree with everything "The Donald" has to say about the movement, but some of the rhetoric being spewed is just downright counterproductive.
Lacking a clearly identified leader or detailed action plan, the Black Lives Matter movement will have the same fate as the failed Occupy Wall Street campaign if its supporters continue to alienate individuals and groups that could actually be instrumental in producing lasting change.
One foolproof method for appealing to a wider, more diverse audience is to channel our anger into productive actions, backed by objective knowledge.
As a criminologist, I'm inclined to take a theoretical, evidence-based approach to the policing issues plaguing our nation. Unfortunately, my colleagues and I don't always market our research to a socially-conscious audience.
The following sections are intended to improve upon this situation by helping those of us who participate in the Black Lives Matter movement bolster the credibility of our arguments, and take some meaningful steps toward change:
What is police legitimacy, and why does it matter?
One common theme arising in #BLM protests and editorials is the idea that, in many communities, police are no longer respected as morally legitimate authorities.
Since it's unlikely we'll ever live in a society without officers, it's important our conversations include strategies that will improve citizens' perceptions of police legitimacy.
The logic is simple: When people accept the police and their roles as authority figures, they are more likely to comply with lawful orders and assist the police in fighting crime in their neighborhoods.
When legitimacy is low, however, individuals are less likely to rely on the police, and might be more inclined to take matters into their own hands.
A buildup of perceived police illegitimacy can also have negative long-term consequences.
"Legal cynicism," a term popularized by sociologists Robert Sampson and Dawn Bartusch, is defined as "a cultural orientation in which the law and agents of its enforcement are viewed as illegitimate, unresponsive and ill-equipped to ensure public safety."
The cultural element of legal cynicism is especially important to consider, as it speaks to the potentially long-term, deeply embedded consequences of police illegitimacy.
In neighborhoods that completely reject police authority, officers also tend to withdraw from their duties to protect and serve.
This was recently the case in Baltimore, where officers were criticized for their slow response during the Freddie Gray riots.
Where does legitimacy come from?
While it's clear legitimacy is important for maintaining public safety and healthy community-police relationships, effective strategies for improving legitimacy might be less obvious.
Of course, there's the idea police should be respected as authority figures because they're, well, authority figures.
In light of recent events, however, many of us need a little more convincing. Police can increase their favorability among cynics by embracing the "Three T's": transparency, trustworthiness and truthfulness.
You can request police be more transparent by making their agency policies publicly available and easily accessible.
Some questions you might want to ask your local police departments include, "What conditions are necessary for suspicion-based stops and searches?" or "Are officers required to reach certain ticket quotas?"
Officers in departments that are more transparent are also more likely to be viewed as trustworthy.
In other words, trust in police is most likely when citizens are well-informed of departmental policy and feel the police are acting with their best interests at heart.
This is best accomplished when officers adapt guardian-style strategies versus militant policing methods.
Finally, truthfulness can be achieved by ensuring that officers are compliant with internal rules and regulations, and are willing to come forward when fellow officers do not act with integrity.
What you can do:
So, how might an ordinary citizen use this information to provoke some meaningful change? For starters, it helps to understand the unique obstacles police face while fulfilling their duties, as both peacekeepers and law enforcers.
As Jacinta Gau and Rod Brunson point out, unlike those in other public service occupations (i.e. social workers and firefighters), police interactions often require an adversary. This person has to be the "good guy" (victim), and someone has to be "the perp" (suspect) so it's impossible to please everyone.
The nature of police work also requires we give up some of our personal liberties for the greater good of public safety.
We cannot, on one hand, expect our neighborhoods to be free of loitering, vandalism and petty thefts, but on the other hand, criticize police for making misdemeanor arrests.
Similarly, it's unrealistic to seek protection against the nation's gun violence epidemic and not expect the police to respond to gun-related incidents with the highest levels of caution.
Understanding the different paradoxes of policing is key to any communication with both the police departments and your locally elected officials. Next, you'll want to voice your concerns in a way that will incentivize police departments to consider your point of view.
This is best accomplished in numbers. Round up just enough people in your community to demonstrate a "presence."
The exact number of people necessary to reach your goals will depend heavily on the setting (i.e. city council hearing or private meeting) and the size of your district.
Once you have the support you need, it's important everyone involved is on the same page.
Identify a set of issues specific to your community that you'd like to tackle, and do some research using the terms and studies presented in this article as a starting point.
Try to organize your short-term objectives and proposed strategies to fall under a broader, long-term goal. Be sure to situate your suggestions within the context of your local police department's activities.
After gathering enough information to justify your position, have a series of meetings with your core team where you all can bounce ideas off one another.
Delegate specific issues or speaking points to particular individuals, and host mock debates with one another before taking your ideas public.
When you've completed a thorough investigation of the existing policies in your department and have conducted enough research to feel confident in your views, you're ready to propose some solutions.
These can range from small gestures (like updating the police department website to include a full list of policies) to more permanent recommendations (a citizen review board).
It's best to start small by developing a relationship with one or two police and/or government officials, who will consider your ideas before moving to a larger audience.
You may have to send a ton of emails and make a lot of calls before gaining the access you need, but you're more likely to be taken seriously if you've done your research beforehand.
Also, be sure to check the calendars for your local police departments and city council, for events open to the public.
Attending these functions can help build a local presence, and are potential platforms for getting your ideas out there.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Elite Daily.