Challenging Racism: with Police, in Hospitals

I am on the board of directors for the Institutes for the Healing of Racism, in Grand Rapids and mid-Michigan, USA. I have facilitated "Dialogue Racism" workshops in several locations since 1992.

When I trained facilitators, a nine-week RC class was part of the training. Facilitators who do not use RC, discharge on a regular basis, and confront their own histories of oppression burn out quickly.

I did an eighteen-hour "Dialogue: Racism" workshop with a city police department. I don't know how successful the workshop was in changing attitudes and behavior, but it did have at least two impacts:

1) A minority policeman (Latino) quit the force and became a security officer for the state. He told me about the gradual destruction of his life and family from participating in the oppressive system and said he had not confronted those issues head-on until that workshop. At the workshop it became clear to him how he had become a part of the oppressive system and begun oppressing other people, including his own people and family.

2) I realized how terrified police officers are and how little support the corrections system provides to them for a job that is stressful, to say the least.

While doing the workshop, I saw a television program about police suicide. I believe it said that police officers were more likely to commit suicide than people in any other profession.

At that time (1997) I did not have enough resource to work with police or fire departments on a regular basis. After a two-hour session with them I would collapse in bed and sleep for eight to ten hours without turning over. I was drained from interacting with people who were in such a terrified condition and were disguising it with false bravado. I rode along with them when they were on duty and felt the uncertainty they experience daily -- not knowing the "good guys" from the "bad guys" and therefore assuming there are only "bad guys" out there. While this applies in particular to their fear of black males, they are also terrified of teenagers, and even each other.

I recall a workshop in a hospital in which I asked how many people spoke to black doctors. No one did, because the doctors were all black men. Their assignment for the week was to speak to every black man they encountered in the hospital and report back the following week. They said the men were startled, amazed, delighted, tearful, joyous. These were men that some of them had encountered for years, men who had been treated, even by black women, as if they were members of a violent street gang.

Evelyn Spears
East Lansing, Michigan, USA


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07