We write to you as members of SW Action, a group of SW DC residents who organize and advocate for anti-racist development, as well as equitable and environmentally sustainable neighborhoods. Included amongst our members is the SWNA Youth Activities Task Force, a group of community volunteers promoting the educational, recreational, cultural, and technological developmental needs of Southwest youth.
Please find our recent statement below, which speaks to a series of incidents involving young people in our neighborhood. The statement asks Southwest residents to be aware of using language that perpetuates harm, consider alternatives to calling the police, and strengthen communal supports that elevate rather than stereotype the young people in our community.
We would appreciate it if you would consider sharing with your readership.
Alexis Goldstein, Jennifer Walker, and Thelma Jones
SW Action’s statement on interrupting cycles of harm, rather than perpetuating them
In the last few months there have been multiple conversations on email listservs and social media groups regarding alleged actions by young people in SW. Some of these discussions not only negatively characterized the young people, but used really inappropriate racist language to describe them. There were also images of the minors posted on social media without parental consent. There was no consideration of alternative interventions, or acknowledgement of the resources that exist in SW. In at least one instance, someone called the police.
We believe that dismantling systemic racism means challenging it everywhere it exists, from police brutality to the way young Black and brown people in particular are criminalized, including by members of their community, especially in rapidly gentrifying areas like D.C.
Members of SW Action, therefore, felt called to respond to this ongoing discussion, and we write to invite our neighbors to be more aware of the use of language that perpetuates harm, to consider employing alternatives to calling the police, and to discover ways they can strengthen communal supports that elevate rather than stereotype the young people in our community.
Language that perpetuates harm
In several instances, people used criminalizing and racist language to describe the young people involved. This rush to criminalization ignores power dynamics and inequities that are increasingly evident in SW and can create long-term negative consequences for those impacted. The negative characterization of the young people creates pain throughout the community, including among parents of Black and Brown children who witness the racist brush some commentators used in describing the young people. As the academic and activist Dr. Ibram X. Kendi writes, “antiracism means separating the idea of a culture from the idea of behavior.”
In the future, we ask that our neighbors consider how language reverberates. Next time you see coded language used in public discussions, consider its impact, knowing that Black and brown people are more likely to face police violence when police are called. If you are able to challenge the use of coded, criminalizing, or racist language, do so.
Alternatives to calling the police
Policing is not an effective long-term solution to problems. Calling the police should not be our first go-to, it should be our last. We ask that you think about what the act of calling the police could do to someone’s life. If you can use alternatives to calling the police, do so.
One comprehensive resource we encourage our neighbors to make use of is this guide to Alternatives to Calling the Police in DC (https://bit.ly/safetybeyondpolice), which includes links to alternative interventions, including Community Mediation DC (https://communitymediationdc.org, Multi-Door Dispute Resolution (https://www.dccourts.gov/superior-court/multi-door-dispute-resolution-division), and the DC Victim Hotline (https://dcvictim.org).
This resource includes a series of Steps to Ask Yourself prior to calling the police, which we are including here:
- Is this merely an inconvenience to me? ➡ Can I put up with this and be okay?
- No, I need to respond ➡ Can I handle this on my own – is this something I could try to talk-out with the person?
- No, I need back-up ➡ Is there a friend, neighbor, or someone whom I could call to help me?
- No, I need a professional ➡ Can we use mediation to talk through what’s happening or is there an emergency response hotline I could call?
- No ➡ If I call the police, do I understand how involving the police could impact me and the other person? If police are present do I know what to do?
Strengthening communal supports
In addition to inviting SW residents to examine and interrogate their own responses to harm, we would like to highlight the many existing programs for young people in SW that could use additional support. After all, it’s only by strengthening these structures that support our young people will we truly build the community we all want to live in.
We ask our neighbors to become acquainted with the existing youth programs (we have listed a few below), and if you have the capacity to share resources with these programs, do so.
- St. Augustine Episcopal Church provides a daily lunch program specifically for Greenleaf and other SW young people. For more information on how you can contribute, contact Rev. Scott Lipscomb at email@example.com or Virginia “Chee Chee” Mathis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The SW Neighborhood Assembly Youth Activities Task Force (SWNA YATF) seeks to enhance and enrich our youth’s cultural, educational, recreational and technological development through small grants, programs, and events. For more information on how you can contribute, contact Thelma Jones at email@example.com.
- The SW Neighborhood Assembly Education and Scholarship Task Force (SWNA ESTF) offers scholarships and a tutoring program for youth in the Southwest Community. For more information on how you can contribute, contact Vyllorya Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- SWNA YATF & ESTF jointly host an annual SWNA YATF & ESTF also contribute to annual Black history programs, including the annual event at Arena Stage and exhibits in local schools. For more information on how you can contribute, contact Thelma D. Jones at email@example.com.
We can do better than our collective response to these recent actions. As a community, we ask our neighbors to join us in challenging the use of harmful language, employing alternatives to calling the police, and sharing resources with existing youth programs.
SW Action is a group of SW residents who organize and advocate for a more equitable, anti-racist, and environmentally sustainable neighborhood
1 NextDoor is a tool of social surveillance that can be used to perpetuate segregation and create a “digital gated community,” as documented by Rahim Kurwa in the paper “Building the Digitally Gated Community: The Case of Nextdoor.”
2 Ibram X. Kendi, “How to Be an Antiracist,” One World, 2019.