This summer has been marked by unprecedented protests against police violence across the nation and around the world. The assaults on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and so many other unarmed Black people by police officers have directed public attention towards the enduring realities of systemic racism in our society yet again. Trying times like these offer powerful opportunities for reflection and transformation. Calls for change can open our minds to rethinking existing structures and systems and can push us away from the inadequate responses of the past.
Members of the Penn community have stood in solidarity with those killed, harmed, and traumatized by police violence and racial injustice, and they have called upon the Penn administration to re-envision public safety to ensure that everyone in our community is and feels equally respected and safe. In response, Penn’s leaders established the Penn Public Safety Review and Outreach Initiative and charged us, as the Initiative’s leaders, to carefully—and critically—examine Penn’s public safety system and offer recommendations designed to create a physically and emotionally safe environment while prioritizing anti-racism and respecting the dignity of everyone, including those affiliated with the University, Penn’s neighbors in West Philadelphia, and all persons present on and around Penn’s campus. Moreover, Penn’s leaders put us in charge of the Initiative because of our long records of commitment to racial justice. To ensure the effectiveness of the Initiative, they have given us unfettered and complete freedom to listen, to learn, and to develop our recommendations for public safety at Penn.
We consider our task to be of the utmost gravity and urgency, and our approach to our review has been rigorous, inclusive, and informed. We, with the help of our colleagues at the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, have received and reviewed an expansive collection of documents from Penn’s Division of Public Safety, and have sought out the views, experiences, perspectives, and recommendations of those in the Penn and West Philadelphia communities. Although not everyone we have contacted has agreed to participate, we are grateful that many have been willing to offer statements and insights—even when sharing remarks could be personally or professionally challenging.
Our work, however, is not yet done. Hearing more voices—and particularly student voices—is critical to our ability to develop recommendations for Penn’s leadership that can effect meaningful change. Many in the Penn community have made it clear that they want the University to be a leader in the anti-racist struggle of reimagining public safety. For those who wish to realize that vision, we encourage you to share your thoughts, observations, and experiences with us. We have reached out to many of you with invitations to speak at our virtual public hearings, and we hope you will agree to join us. We also welcome everyone to submit statements (identified or not identified) through our website, by phone at (215) 746-4572, or by e-mail at email@example.com. With your input, ideas, and guidance, we can make this moment the powerful catalyst for change that it should and must be.
DOROTHY E. ROBERTS is a joint professor in Penn Law School and the departments of Africana Studies and Sociology
CHARLES L. HOWARD is Penn’s University Chaplain and the University Vice President for Social Equity & Community
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