Sunday, July 19, 2020

Both/And or Either/Or: Social Work and Policing

[Episode 127]. Today’s episode is the audio recording of a Facebook Live discussion that happened on Tuesday, July 14, 2020 called Both/And or Either/Or: Social Work and Policing. Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 and countless other Black people by police over the past 200 plus years, two perspectives have emerged about social work's role with law enforcement. To be sure, these perspectives have been articulated for years. But in the midst of the largest and most sustained period of protests against systemic racism and support for Black Lives, these two perspectives gained particular traction after social work leaders published opinion pieces on The either/or perspective, articulated by UCLA social work chair Laura Abrams and University of Houston social work Dean Alan Dettlaff in a June 18, 2020 open letter to NASW and Allied Organizations, argued that "social work can either continue to invest in and collaborate with police OR affirm that #BlackLivesMatter." This letter was signed by over 1,400 social workers (full transparency, I was one of the signatories) and delivered to NASW. The Both/And perspective was articulated in a post on June 30, 2020 by Darlyne Bailey, Charles E. Lewis, Steve Burghardt, and Terry Mizrahi. They argued that "we need to break from binary slogans of 'defunding' and replace them with a transformative platform tied to  reinvesting in social services, training guardians not warriors, and ending all forms of racial injustice in law enforcement, sentencing, incarceration, parole and probation.

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Today’s episode is the audio recording of a Facebook Live discussion that happened on Tuesday, July 14, 2020 called Both/And or Either/Or: Social Work and Policing. Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 and countless other Black people by police over the past 200 plus years, two perspectives have emerged about social work's role with law enforcement. To be sure, these perspectives have been articulated for years. But in the midst of the largest and most sustained period of protests against systemic racism and support for Black Lives, these two perspectives gained particular traction after social work leaders published opinion pieces on The either/or perspective, articulated by UCLA social work chair Laura Abrams and University of Houston social work Dean Alan Dettlaff in a June 18, 2020 open letter to NASW and Allied Organizations, argued that "social work can either continue to invest in and collaborate with police OR affirm that #BlackLivesMatter." This letter was signed by over 1,400 social workers (full transparency, I was one of the signatories) and delivered to NASW. The Both/And perspective was articulated in a post on June 30, 2020 by Darlyne Bailey, Charles E. Lewis, Steve Burghardt, and Terry Mizrahi. They argued that "we need to break from binary slogans of 'defunding' and replace them with a transformative platform tied to  reinvesting in social services, training guardians not warriors, and ending all forms of racial injustice in law enforcement, sentencing, incarceration, parole and probation.

These and subsequent publications prompted a dynamic and at time contentious debate on Twitter. I was impressed with how many people were engaged and with many of the points that people were making and the resources they were sharing. I was also frustrated because Twitter isn’t designed for discussion. I shared my frustration with my Loyola University Chicago colleague, Michael Kelly. He suggested inviting the authors to do a podcast. It might surprise you to know that I hadn’t considered doing a podcast. And then I realized a FB Live might be the perfect compromise: it would allow the authors to share their perspectives while the audience engaged with the content and each other in the live feed. When I reached out, I was grateful that Alan, Laura, Charles and Terry said yes. 

My guests were Charles E. Lewis, Jr., Terry Mizrahi, Laura Abrams, and Alan Dettlaff. Alan Dettlaff is the Dean of the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston. Laura Abrams is Professor of Social Welfare and the department chair at UCLA. Charles E. Lewis, Jr. is the Founder and President of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. And Terry Mizrahi is currently co-chair with Professor Mimi Abramovitz of the National Social Work Voter Mobilization Campaign (, a founding member of ACOSA (Association of Community Organization and Social Action), professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, and past-President of NASW.

I want to give a big shout out to Charla Yearwood, Clinical Assistant Professor of Field Instruction and Coordination ( at IUPUI, for volunteering to create a transcript and closed captioning for the recording. Charla - your speed and generosity made the video accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community and ADA compliant for professors who wanted to assign this discussion to their students. Check her out on Twitter:

There are multiple ways to experience this discussion - read the transcript below, watch on YouTube with closed captions, or immerse yourself in over 500 audience questions, comments and resources posted on the Facebook Live: 

A few notes about this episode. The audio is pulled from the live video feed which means the audio quality and volume of each speaker varies. During the livestream I was moderating the conversation, messaging with the guests, keeping track of the comments and questions on Facebook and occasionally responding online. Before the live feed my guests and I agreed that Laura would start with a brief description of the either/or perspective, Charles would do the same for the Both/and perspective, and then Alan and Terry would have time to respond and go into more depth about these two perspective. 

And now, without further ado, on to Episode 127 of the Social Work Podcast: Both/And or Either/Or: Social Work and Policing.

Facebook Live

Jonathan Singer: I would like to start by asking Laura to take a minute take a couple of minutes to describe this either/or position. 

Laura Abrams: Okay. Thank you very much. Thank you, Jonathan, and all my colleagues. I think it's just wanna start by saying it's very important that we have this conversation. And I'm very happy to be part of the discussion today. As has been made clear by all of our public statements, I think we all agree that this is a very pivotal time in the history of our profession. And I think we all agree as well that we need to act on many fronts to combat lethal and persistent racism. And to reimagine what safety looks like in communities that don't feel protected, especially at the hands of the police. So Jonathan gave you a little bit of background about how Alan and I got involved in this discussion. And so just to reiterate a little bit, on June 15th NASW responded in The Washington Post to a critical article that was written from a non social worker about how social workers are basically just as racist as police officers. So we were not the solution to policing issues. NASW responded in a way that suggested that social workers are best suited to work alongside the police. And that was the gist of the opinion. Two days later, Trump signed an Executive Order on policing that was solely insufficient, in highly criticized by Black Lives Matter and grassroots organizations.  That evening NASW put out a tweet showcasing a photo of Trump that appeared to support the Executive Order. And they tweeted, quote, "@RealDonaldTrump, signed an Executive Order calling for more police training. #socialworkerswillbeintegral" in this kind of enthusiastic way about this is Social Work's moment and even aligning in that sense with Trump now NASW later, denounce the Executive Order. But that tweet was still felt far and wide, both among social workers, our students, our community. And it hit me kind of hard. I've been listening to the voices of our students that are calling for a more progressive and grassroots responses that want us to support the Black Lives Matter platform and The People's Budget. And I felt extremely concerned at that moment that we were moving in the wrong direction and that as our governing organization, that NASW was not representing the multitude of voices in our profession. So I spoke with Alan that day and we decided to use our our platform as deans and directors and to put ourselves out there and asking NASW to take a bolder stance, one that stands in support of those leading the movement in the Black community, which may not be social workers, but isn't, is such a critical voice right now. And just to reiterate our 5 points that we asked for was for NASW to, 1. endorse the Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter policy platform  2. Craft a policy position on what divesting from police and reinvesting communities might mean for social work. To add an anti-racism code of ethic to our code to acknowledge that there are abolitionist voices among our members so that NASW doesn't have just one type of voice and to address our own history of white supremacy and racism. And over 1100 people signed our open letter just in five days over Twitter. And we were really enthusiastic. So just let me be clear to summarize in my opening statement, for Alan and I, our position is that defunding the police is a key element in moving toward an anti-racist society, one that is way overdue and that reinvesting and critical services, basic needs and prevention is also anti-racist. We think divest and reinvest should be part of our national social work agenda. We think it aligns with our values. And this is why we decided to use our own positions to make our voices heard. We do not speak for our faculty or all of our constituents, but we we are committed to moving this discourse forward. Thank you. 

Jonathan Singer: Thank you, Laura. And before I turn to Charles, I just wanted to again, thank everybody who's watching and invite you to leave your comments and questions in the chat box. And we will do our best to entertain as many as possible later on after folks have had a chance to elaborate a little bit more on their position. So Charles,  

Charles E. Lewis, Jr.:  Thank you, Jonathan, and I'm delighted to be here with my colleagues to talk about this very important subject, and that is reducing the harm policing has had, has had. And in so many communities, particularly communities of color, I wanted to make, I want to say, preface my remarks by saying, I'm not here to defend NASW, I'm here to give my own viewpoints on this. Some of you may have had the opportunity to see our Congressional Briefing on the 30th of June, where we brought together some people who operate in that space, as has led to call it, to show that there's multiple ways that you can operate in communities. I say in tandem. Does it mean in partnership necessarily side-by-side are different. But the one thing is we have to remember is that Black communities and no Communities a monolithic. There are so many different communities that there is no one size fits all approach and people have different attitudes. I am sure that older African Americans have a much different attitudes and opinions than a lot of the young people who are, You know, marching with Black Lives Matters, but we all have the same objective. That is to And the brutality that's happens in our communities on a daily base, bases by police. So I am looking forward to having a spirited discussion. 

Jonathan Singer: Thank you so much, Charles. And, and again, what we're doing here is Alan is going to provide a little bit more commentary on the either/or and then I'm going to go to Terry for a little more on the both and and again, thank you for your comments. I'm seeing them I'm seeing lots of folks that are our friends and colleagues on the Facebook live. So this is wonderful. Shout out to all of you,  Alan,  

Alan Dettlaff: Yes, Thanks. First I want to, as Laura mentioned, really thank Darlyne and Terry, and Charles and Steve for their response to our letter which articulated this both and idea because that's what really got the discussion going and has continued. But I wanted to elaborate a bit with why we think a both and response is not appropriate for our profession and why we have advocated for what's, what's called this either-or approach. And I think it comes down to really the acknowledging that we've already had a both and approach when it comes to social work and policing. We have been collaborating with law enforcement for decades and it really has not led to very meaningful change in the sense that we continue to see that same racist, violent outcomes that come out of law enforcement. Despite our collaborations with them, I think we've tried to view ourselves as the people who can create change from inside. But I think now is a time where we need to acknowledge that we've tried to collaborate, we've tried to reform. And at this point we are complicit and we believe that we can't continue to be complicit in what we know to be harmful racist institutions. So that's why we said in our response, we don't believe this is a both end moment because cooperating with the racist institution equates to upholding that institution. I think we also, when we talk about collaborations with police, I think we need to acknowledge that social workers are already not viewed, helpful by many communities of color, due primarily to our role in family separation, which is done disproportionately in Black communities. And if we think about who we want to be as social workers and as a profession. If we want to be helpful, if we want to provide helpful services to communities. A big part of that is building trust. And building the trust we need to build in communities is already a really delicate balance. Because in many communities, social workers are already viewed as a form of policing. So when we think about collaborating with police, Our view is that we can't build trust in communities. We can't be effective in responding to situations if we're walking into communities hand-in-hand with the very people who've been terrorizing those communities for decades. So we believe we need to discontinue any form of collaboration with law enforcement. And then as Laura articulated, the Black Lives Matter movement has organized around the platform to defund the police. And we believe that we as a profession, need to stand with them. So our Either or approach stated that social work can either continue to invest in and collaborate with police or we can affirm that Black Lives Matter. And the way to do that is supporting the Black Lives Matter platform to deepen the police. We do believe, as Charles and Terry's letter mentioned, that we need to take away from one to gain and another. Your letter called for reinvesting in social services. Where will those funds come from? We believe that can come by reallocating the billions of dollars that are currently spent on policing. And then lastly  I wanted to say, I think it's important to think about some of the bigger picture issues that this conversation leads to or should be leading us to. I think this movement or this discussion is really important because these bigger picture questions when we think about who is best equipped to respond to mental health crises. And we've had discussions about whether that should be the police or whether social worker should take that role, or whether social workers should collaborate with the police. I think the real question that we need to be asking ourselves is, why are there so many mental health crises that require a response? Why do we live in a society in which so many people have unmet mental health needs that get to the point of escalating to a crisis? And is there something that we as a society can do about that? And the answer to that is yes. This is about how we as a society choose to allocate our resources. Right now. We choose to spend billions of dollars on a system of policing to respond to mental health crises. Instead of spending those billions of dollars to prevent those crises from happening in the first place. So what if we thought about that differently? So to me, that's what this movement is really about. Thanks.  

Jonathan Singer:  Thank you so much, Alan. So much food for thought there. So I just want to dive right in. Terry, I'm going to hand it over to you though for a little bit more context for the both and perspective.  

Terry Mizrahi:  Thank you. Okay, so it really has started that difference, whether we call it a debate, because once Alan talked about institutions that they're systemic racism in institutions that will put our frame. So we're here today even before Laura's comment or the Black Lives Matter response to George Floyd and the others. But here's the moment. We are an immediate moment where social work has gotten the spotlight. For some people that's wonderful and other people, it's scary. And other people are saying, oh no. So when we say both, and we don't mean that there again, there's two positions as opposed to one. What we are being we are being identified as part of the solution. And Alan's right, we have been criticized for years as part of the problem. If somebody is giving you an opportunity to be part of the solution, let's take advantage of this opportunity because they are recognizing and who they are. We can talk about later who's saying this in the skills, we have some skills, we have some values. I hope so, I've devoted my whole life to thinking that social workers can make a difference and that leadership makes a difference and people on the line can. So the either-or again, people who ran to, yes. Yes. Let's embrace the opportunity. And then people said reject it And that's what our colleagues basically are saying today. And if I, if I misinterpret something along the way, I'm just going to stay as we inferred from your comments. And we may not be exactly along the exactly correct, but we absolutely believe that you can be both critics and collaborators. And those are not passive roles. Those, we can and need to be at the table when policy is happening and at the door where protests happening. And that's how movements are made. You start with the protest and then you get to the policy. Without the protest, we would have not had the Civil Rights Movement, we all agree. But without the bills in the legislation that got passed, we wouldn't have to Civil Rights where we are today as, as limited as that is. So I want to say something about a couple last things. They either/ or strategy does make people take sides. I, and it feeds the divide and conquer strategy right now against those who are against systemic reform, those who are against Black Lives Matter, those who deny that systematic racism exist. Just look at the commercials now on television, but what defund the police is saying on the folks who don't believe, what I know we all believe, and those probably on this, everybody watching and listening today. But today is a discussion, not a systemic racism so much, but it's about having committed, confident, and competent social work is on the inside, sharing their practices, providing the services. And as we continued to be critics, we stand and speak out in public forums. And be, credit go. I'm not sure why we can and should and have to do both to make a difference and for our profession. Last comments for now, and we'll come back and want to say something about acknowledging institutional racism, which Alan did in all agencies. So police departments are the smallest, I think the smallest departments in terms of social workers. But we are the systemic racism in child welfare and health care that's been exposed by the pandemic. The disparities are huge. The school system, no system is just. We must acknowledge that thousands of Social Work was already work in collaboration with the police and more importantly, in criminal justice. So, our position, as we read in the last statement by our colleagues, is not to call for a boycott of agencies to say that field placements should not, students should not be placed in field to allow students to have the opportunity or to say you can reject going into that. Where is the slippery slope? How far does that go? Should we not? have field placements and child welfare? Because African American folks and people of color get a worse treatment should we not have social workers in schools because there are police guarding the doors? Should we not have folks in hospitals when we know that public system is, is falling apart, while the private hospitals get more money for middle-class people. Where does that it end so if we're saying, And the last thing I will say, what the slippery slope does in this either/or is we have thousands of folks of color who we, I'll speak now as I said, we want to speak for ourselves at Silberman School of Social Work, where I've taught for 39 years. And we, and the people coming in particular may need women coming in to get their degrees. Many of them disproportionately are people of color coming into professionalize themselves to make a difference in those systems. Take on leadership positions. And who are we to say boycott those don't use student placements and Deans no longer Field Directors allow your students to work in these systems. We all, if you agreed as they started that every system has systemic racism, where does that, when do we tell, where do we have our social workers go? And particularly the thousands of African American social workers that I know, at least in New York City, are working their tails off to change those systems from within. So we need a with that, we need to be at the door, we need to table. And I'll add my last comment. We need to be at the polls this November. 

Jonathan Singer:  Thank you Terry. So there's so much to unpack here. And so I'm just gonna ask Laura and Alan is if you'd like to respond to anything that Charles and Terry have have have said about their positions. And and I just want to say that in the comments on Facebook, one of the requests is to define what does it mean to defund. And, and so if you could start out with some of the addressing some of these basic definitions and certainly how that that relates to your responses. That will be wonderful. 

Laura Abrams: I can talk a little bit about that and why I've come to support the call to defund that police.  A lot of, I think a lot of well, meaning white people and that I know, and my family and community have come to me and said, I don't understand the slogan, It's to off-putting. And I think I saw that in the chat as well. And because people start to think about, oh, do we, you know, who's going to keep us safe, right? And that is scary for people. But the reason that I really support the, the defunding the police movement is, first of all, that is the slogan and the cry and the position that the Black Lives Matter has taken the movement and people who are day to day affected by violent, lethal policing that has not affected my life as a white woman. So who am I to say that's not the right slogan or that's not the right pitch. I take a stand a step back from from judgment. And in what I have read, and I just wanted to explain a couple of things. Defunding is a continuum of movement toward re-imagining what safety means in communities that have not been protected from the police as an agent of violence. When you think about institutional violence, there is no other institution that has been as violent. And Terry mentioned education, health care, child welfare. Those are all institutions that have problematic racist components. But there's no institution that has been as lethally violent as policing in America toward the Black community and communities of color. And that's why I do think at this time, while we need to question a lot of where social work stands, focusing on the funding, the police is a policy agenda that I strongly believe social work should endorse. And it does matter what our leaders say. And to date, there have not been a public endorsement by ns w, or our other leaders on defending the police or beyond. We support Black lives. People have not said I support the Black Lives Matter Policy Platform. And that is what Alan and I are asking for, which is to take money out of bloated police departments that have taken over a lot of social work jobs. And jobs that community members can do to keep people safe and feel like they can thrive and have healthy lives and put that money into education and prevention and other resources. I agree with Alan that there are limited resources. So in asking for social work to join with the police, we're asking for more money to be put into police budgets, which I do not support. And I do not see that leading to any type of change because decades and decades of decrees and lawsuits and presidential commissions and evidence does not support at all that light reforms work in preventing violence, police violence against Black people. So I'll stop there. 

Jonathan Singer:  I'm actually going to jump to you, Charles. I know Alan, I hadn't served said Laura and Alan, but there is a lot to unpack there. And Charles, I'm wondering if you have any any reflections or comments because I know that you address some of these in one of the pieces that you wrote in terms of the meaning of defunding and some of the roles of social work. And you're, you're muted right now.

Charles E. Lewis, Jr.: Alright, so I'm a writer, a word, wordsmith. Alright? So words matter. So when you say the defund, some people interpret that as being meaning Get rid of the police. In fact, there are some abolitionists out there and saying abolish the police. Okay? I don't know if I would find a whole lot of African American people who would agree with that. Now I'm not speaking for all African-American people, I'm not speaking for all African American communities. I'm saying that I've lived in some pretty bad communities in my time and there are times I wanted to see the police. Okay. I mean, as long as they weren't coming after me, I felt safer with the police then without the police. It's, it's it's I mean, it's a very complicated situation, Congresswoman Bass and Senator Van Hollen of crafting a bill now where they would create an entity in the community, separate from the police, that would handle certain calls. So if 9-1-1 calls come in for maybe a nonviolent domestic violent situation, on mental health situation, homeless situation, then the police would not be involved. I mean, that's just one model. It has been done and I believe Albuquerque and in Newark now is is going segregate some funds. So I can I am for that. In terms of we allocating funds. But in terms of the idea of, you know, getting getting totally getting rid of the police. I think that's not practical. I don't think it's gonna happen. And I, but the bottom line is that I'd rather have social workers in this space, okay? Because we bring, we bring our values into this work. And yeah, maybe we're not going to be perfect at it, but I bet you, we will do a lot more good. the we'll do damage. I believe that that that social workers would be looking out for. People to people in the community, whether with the police or outside of the pleased. So I'll just say one last thing. Alan, you know the name Lee P Brown. [Alan shakes his head no] Oh, okay. I thought you might know him. Lee P Brown, Was a police commissioner in Houston and actually he became mayor following it. But David Dinkins hired him to be his police commissioner. And around 1989, and I was living in East New York, Brooklyn, which was one of the worst communities. And in the end, and the city, if not the country, it was called the killing fields. And there were so many murders in that community. And so, Lee P Brown instituted community policing. And he took the police cars, put them on the street, and they had to engage the community. And I was working at a church in as St. Paul Community Baptist Church in that community, which is why I was living on a block, say Give me a place to stay. But long story short, we had meetings in the church with the police and we talked about a lot of issues and will happen when the community began to lose its complete fear and distrust of the police, they were able to, they, they felt more willing to point out the bad guys and, and cooperate. And in terms of policing, and we saw a major drop in crime in a community. Some, I'm saying the police, they've got a lot of work to do, and certainly social workers are not going to fix the police. But I think social workers need to be in the space. And I think police still have some things that they need to do in terms of we're going to say from the bag, Thank you. And we have there are a ton of comments. 

Jonathan Singer:  We have about 25 minutes left on this live stream. And so keep the comments going. We're not going to be able to get to all of them. But I'm loving the fact that there is this conversation happening on the Facebook Lives about this content, which is exactly what we need. We need conversation about this. One of the things that I wanted to do is Alan and I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond. And I also wanted to throw out something that I've seen in the thread, which is this conversation. And it gets really down to the, it's not minutiae, but it's very on-ground. And it relates to something that Charles said, which is that some folks are, are wondering, since social workers are expected to go into situations that can be dangerous. And these aren't necessarily Black, white, brown. This is not about somebody's skin color, but if there, if there is no relationship with the police and social work, how do we think about social worker safety? And how do we think about the jobs that social workers are trained to do? In communities. So Alan, I'm going to hand that over to you. 

Alan Dettlaff:  Yeah, I think that's an important conversation. And I think, you know, for the most part, the conversations that I've seen of people talking about social workers being more equipped as a responder are responding to nonviolent situations. I think in a lot of cases, that's the response that's being talked about going into nonviolent situations. But I think we also need to, as a field part of what Laura and I have talked about is that just because we're trained as social workers, I think we need to acknowledge that that doesn't mean we're not going to continue to see some of the same racist outcomes that we see in policing the differences that social workers don't have guns. So we may not see that, kind of won't see the violent outcomes we've seen. But social work, I think as our profession really needs to grapple with the racism that exists within our own profession. And it's something that people are just starting to talk about. We have problems of racism, as Terry mentioned, in our own systems of care. And until we really start to have candid conversations about that, and not just conversations, but action to address it. How do we think we can be a solution to anything in this space? I think you only need to look as far as the child welfare system to know how much harm social workers can cause to children and families of color, particularly Black children and families, that kind of thing that we need to start talking about as a profession. I think I wanted to give a kind of a concrete example of the funding because I think that I've seen that in the chat and I'll give you just a quick one of Houston's here students plan to defund the police was to end unfilled positions. So to eliminate unfilled positions in the police department, to suspend overtime pay, and to implement a hiring freeze that would have saved $30 million that could have been reinvested into the community for mental health services, crisis response, substance abuse programs, and that's what defund is about. But I wanted to address what what Charles said too, I do think this is about a bigger movement that's tied to abolition. For many, many people, defending the police is a strategy to get towards abolition. And I think it's important that we as a profession start having conversations about what that means. I know that idea seems even more radical, but I think that's where we as a profession need to be because it's consistent with our values. Putting people in cages shouldn't be the solution to society's problems. We need to start talking more about how harm, not just how harmful policing is, but how harmful incarceration is. And when I think about this bigger idea, abolition isn't about just closing police departments. It's about ultimately rendering them obsolete. And that's about what divestment and reinvestment in communities about is about. It's about gradually divesting from law enforcement and reallocating those funds to what really creates public safety. Police don't make communities safe. What really makes community say is well-funded public schools, access to mental health services, housing for all who need it, employment opportunities, expansion of the safety net. That's what we should be allocating funds for in our communities. 

Terry Mizrahi: Can I comment? 

Jonathan Singer:  Yes, Terry, I was going I was going to call on you because I know that Alan just raised a bunch of points that you had sort of alluded to earlier about the role of social work and various different fields. So yes, please. 

Terry Mizrahi: I don't think that we are So what's the word? I don't think we're, so we believe that social work is going to have the answer. So again, we know I know Alan didn't  say that if we're going to wait for social work by itself, then where are, where are the nurses? Were the teachers. And we again, I'm just moving that forward to the extreme that that Lauren and Alan didn't say directly. But we're not telling the doctors they're working in race assistance and we didn't tell them to leave and they would cause just as much death if they didn't work. And those systems, and we see that the variety of folks working on the line now, so we can again, do both. That's not a wishy washy position to say that we can we need to do both at the same time. We can't wait. But on the other hand, we have to address our code. So I went back to the code of ethics. I'm sure all of us did because we're talking about it. And I was pleased, pleased with the words. Charles. He talked about words. The words are there, maybe now they need to be more intentional because they're, one of the values is social justice. And by the way, and for again, there may be a lot of younger folks. Here are older folks who forgot what the code says that and it's one of the tenants that Laura and Alan have suggested. So we can add more explicit language. We could be more intentional. It talks about absolutely making a change from within. We would not have a NASW nationally in 1963 because every single social white social work or worked in a segregated system. So we would have 13 states that wouldn't be part of NASW. Maybe some people would think that's good. I want to bring the example of deinstitutionalization. I think we have to be careful here. We, many of us here and many of us, I'm sure on the call supported deinstitutionalization of mental hospitals for three or four different reasons and talked about transferring that those funds from this system, the institution, to the community. What happened? We got rid of one and we didn't get rid of the other. So we need to look at how do we expand the pie for all those services and all those preventive programs in which unheralded social workers are working today. I can tell you that I don't want to speak for folks who are working in those systems because I don't, but I teach them and I know how hard struggles. And I'm gonna give you the examples. Charles gave an example, Alan gave an example. So deinstitutionalization was difficult because we cut money, but we didn't transfer it. So again, we have to just be cautious about the kinds of simp... what seem like simplistic things take from one and get from the other, rather than, as Alan said, looking at the bigger picture, if you want to know somebody who's worked in the police and made a huge transformation in the system. Look like Sean Pica and Hudson Link. Sean Pica. was a convicted felon, a murderer, who came to social work school. We were Silberman (School of Social Work). He as a white criminal, got favors. He recognizes privilege in Sing Sing and all the other state. He was in ten prisons. He created something called Hudson Link, where with with with that 500 convicted felons, their college degrees, it's called Hudson Link, and the recidivism rate when they got out, these convicted felons is less than 10% and he's making it. And guess what? There's a whole student unit that work with him in the prisons. Are we going to say get rid of we can't work in criminal justice. We have big programs and probation were not, we can't by ourselves... We're not ending this. We're not going to end this no matter what. So let's look at the code of ethics, which are say, and let's, if we have to, but we have to do practice our pronouncements. And we need to include, if we're talking about systemic reform folks, we need to bring in more macro curricula to students who feel confident in those larger pictures, not just making, not just serving individuals. 

Jonathan Singer:  Thank you, Terry. So I just want to acknowledge that there have been a lot of comments throughout this conversation on the feed that raised the issue of the NASW Code of Ethics and including the word racism, anti-racism in the code of ethics. And I think that this is something that you all have alluded to talking about our code of ethics. And, and people have also been talking about the fact that there is a basic white supremacy foundation for social work. And this raises the question about the extent to which one white supremacist field can actually do... what's the word? Anti race? I'm, I'm, I'm stumbling over my words, but, but fix another system that is also a white supremacist system. And an Alan, You brought up the fact that abolishing the police is on the continuum that Laura mentioned when she said defunding is a continuum and we have about 15 minutes left. And the, I think one of the questions or one of the threads that I'd love for folks to comment on here as we, as we start to wrap this up. Hopefully not the first time or the only time we will talk about this. But is this idea of when you think about the NASW code of ethics, when we think about who all is making these statements addressing the issue of who is defining who this is a problem for and how we move forward with this. And I say this because there, there are a lot of ideas that you all have thrown out there and There's some people that are going to be wanting to leave with the answer. And there is not the answer, or at least we haven't come up with it yet. And so I would just really love for you all to talk about how we how we seize this moment. Laura, Would you mind? 

Laura Abrams:  Sure. Yeah. I think that's exactly what I'm thinking about. You know, when I get back to the original reason that Alan and I kind of put our heads together to put forth this statement is in is not really about these kind of individual situations like Sure, yes, you're Terry's example of a former. You know, someone who was formerly incarcerated working, working to help people in prisons? Yes. Those individual examples are like are, are not necessarily what we're, what we're aiming to fix. At the moment. I myself, my research has been in juvenile justice and also prison and jail facilities. And so I've been on the inside and I understand that view. Our point, our main point is that if NASW, and allied organizations are speaking for our profession in these public forums. Who is actually defining in the discourse right now, right? Because we know that discourse matters and we know that words matter. Defined the police as a term is a discourse that matters, right? So where social work stands on this and, and what we say and who's speaking is also a defining moment. I do want to seize this moment. In social work, I want to embrace this moment just as much as Terry and Charles do in terms of taking our stand and, and putting our stake here and saying we are on the side of Black Lives Matter and we support this policy platform. We support divesting and reinvesting. We don't know exactly what this is going to look like. We don't know exactly where things will end if we if we move toward defunding. But I is what Mariame Kaba said in her New York Times article. When people, especially white folks, consider a world without police, they envision society as violent as our current one, merely without law enforcement. As a society, we've been so indoctrinated with the idea that we solve problems by policing and caging people that many cannot imagine anything other than prisons and the police as solutions to violence and harm. We call upon our profession to work with communities to envision solutions that do not involve violence and further harm. For example, restorative justice, which I think social work should embrace way more wholeheartedly than we do. I could go on, but I can, I won't, and I'll turn it over to my colleagues here. But just to say that anyone can come up with the, the exception, the good cop, the program that works. OK. But what we're talking about here is who and how are we claiming our position in this very historic time around racial justice as a profession. And that's what I'm mostly concerned about. 

Jonathan Singer:  Thank you.  Charles, I'm wondering if you'd like to respond. And also as we as we come to the end of the hour that we have here, I'm wondering if you can talk about some of the next steps. Start us in on this because I'd like everybody to share some ideas for next steps. Either next steps for the conversation, next steps for the sort of moving on.  

Charles E Lewis, Jr.:  Thank you. And I'm glad you asked that specific question. I did my dissertation on in conservation. I spent lot of time looking at this system and it needs to be undone. You know what? You know, too many people are, have had their lives ruined. Communities have been destroyed by policing and incarceration. So we got, we have to address that issue. So but for me, I'm going to get behind one policy now for now, gone for it, because you can't do it all. And the one thing that I, that I really feel strongly about is taking police out of schools. Okay? Taking the police out of the schools and taking those dollars and putting putting social workers in the schools. Are there. Congresswoman Janet (Grace) Napolitano is the Chair of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus. She has a bill that's been on land and we're going to we're going to do a briefing on that bill in the fall. And we're gonna encourage all social workers to get behind at least this one idea. And, there are many more. let's take the police out of schools and put social workers in schools. 

Jonathan Singer: Excellent. Thank you. Alright. And I, and I will say that my friend Micheal Kelly, over at, has been doing a lot work on schools and policing or a school resource officers. And so I think that's a really important place to start. Alan, I'm gonna handed over to you. 

Alan Dettlaff:  Thanks. I'd say in  addition to defunding, the police. I think in terms of next steps are our position is Laura and I wrote a response to Terry and Charles and Darlyne and Steve's letter that laid out different steps that people can take from students to faculty to chairs to get behind this movement. But in terms of a really concrete step, many of us are social work educators and in that space. So I wanted to talk about what we could do there because it's come up a bit about The acknowledging the White supremacy and racism that exists within our own profession and within our own system. That's a place where I really think we need to start having much more conversations about because I don't think we've done a good job of that historically. How many of our schools of social work talked about the fact that Black children and families were intentionally excluded from the Settlement House Movement. We talked about that movement all the time. Do we talked about how racist that movement was? The Settlement House Movement, was created by white people to protect and uphold white people. Those are the kind of things that we need to start talking about in our profession. How many of our schools of social work talked about the fact that when Jane Addams spoke out against lynchings, she also implicitly justified it by calling Black men bestial . Those are the racist origins of our profession that we need to start talking about? And then how did those racist origins lead to the decades of policy development and our systems that produce the racist outcomes We see. I mentioned the child welfare system before, but I think that's an important one because it's large, largely built by social workers. But it's a system that not only produces racist outcomes, but it's a system that we've known about that for decades, which really speaks to the deep problems we have in our profession. We've known for decades that the child welfare system causes immeasurable harm to Black children and families. And we've been unable as a profession to do anything about it. We really need to start looking critically at ourselves and what we do in our own systems of care before we think we can be any kind of solution anywhere else. It really has to start from within. And it could start by the education that we give our students so that they could really start grappling with the racist origins of our profession and how that led to, and in many ways maintains racism in our systems today. 

Terry Mizrahi:  Ok, so I'm the, I'm the last one of the four and I will say in a respectful way to Alan, and that many of us are teaching that. I want to just say that the, the kind of extreme, again, it comes back to it. What Alan sees more. I don't, as, again, the either teaching or we don't, we're implicitly complicit or we have to be out, we, we have to start, I hope with some reality that where we are as a profession, depending on how you define us who is a social work, but on who's listening? There's a 150,000 NASW members. There are 450,000 licensed social workers. There are almost a million people who identify on the census that they are social workers by position who don't have a degree. So even if we want to go back to the basic who's speaking for us, we cannot right now that four of us, I certainly not speaking for our profession. NASW has the, the bandwidth, I think, to reach out to thousands of social workers. Let's do the research. It's not a popularity contest, but let's find out whether Charles' view or whether Laura's view about how people feel about the safety of their communities and the roles. I would like to, I'll end with a couple of things that I think in addition to policy, specific policies, their specific bills or colleague Michael Sherraden and others have written a policy statement that talks about several things, several items that I think again, we don't have to start from scratch. But the community is not monolithic. We, we all have to, including myself, be careful of this broad statements that social workers did this, social workers did that. We have the data, some people teach it. We need more complete history. You know what, that's what the Black Lives Matters is saying. Now all these laws are saying we teaching an incomplete history about the Confederacy. So we agree with that. We agree with them. Put racism into the code of ethics. But here's what I think for social workers who are in the system who are listening. Now you could feel demoralized. I would likes to talk about the example. Laura, as an exception. I'm differ but I think that there are hundreds and thousands of Social Works making a difference every day. Unheralded who need to share their stories. We need to replicate Hudson Link. We need to bring funds so that, that prisoners can get a college degree They can't now There are lots of things that are already models that we need to replicate, we need to showcase. And this is the opportunity Social Work is finally going to be able to say, we have some things that work, are we can end racism in this society, of course not. But we have a voice, we have vision, we have values, we have skills. You mentioned restorative justice, we do mediation, we do street gangs work, we do lots of things that I don't think the average person who was making policy understands. Getting a seat at the table doesn't mean compromise or cooptation because we're going to always have those social workers and others at the door holding us honest. But nor should the people at the door say that the folks at the table don't understand what's going on in the community. We need to bring the voices from the community at the table with us. 

Jonathan Singer:  Terry, I want to say thank you and I want to thank Alan and Laura and Charles for this hour-long discussion that had the feed just full of energy and lots of ideas. And I just wanted to point everyone back to the original articles that were written about this to follow these folks on social media as they are engaging in these conversations all the time. And for those of you who are in schools of social work, continue to demand that we address the racism in our curriculum that those of you that are in, while all of us that are social workers that are in systems be vigilant about who's being served by those systems and to continue to have these conversations. So again, I just want to thank everyone so much for your time and your energy and your willingness to have this conversation. 

APA (7th ed) citation for this podcast:

Singer, J. B. (Producer). (July 19, 2020). #127 - Both/And or Either/Or: Social Work and Policing [Audio Podcast]. Social Work Podcast. Retrieved from


Stephen said...

This explained everything that I am taking a class- PERFECTLY- As a foster parent now BSW student- I learn so much from the podcast. Have you thought about a focus on foster parent training- doing a show on that? My support group is always advocating that the training standards should be higher!

Taina said...

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