World Mayor 2023

Trust and race in America
By Bill Johnson* and Tony Favro*

May 2021: City Mayors’ Senior Fellow Tony Favro and former Mayor of Rochester, New York, Bill Johnson continue their discussion of race in the United States from their perspectives as a white American and a Black American by looking at how trust is built or destroyed. A previous discussion in City Mayors focused on the power of respect. Trust and respect allow people to feel safe and confident, live and work together without conflict, and see each other as legitimate and worthy.

About us

Opinion: Trust and race in America

Opinion: Fighting racism in America

US Supreme Court versus City Halls

Corrupt US mayors

US mayors caught up in nation's culture war

New York's Borough presidents

Hunger in America

The guns of America

Post-Covid, American cities strengthen economic equity, resilience and regionalism

An American Dream for the 21st century

Public health and racism in the US

City Equity Offices to counter systematic racism in America

List of US City Equity Offices

African American Mayors

Ending racism in American cities - a conversation with Rochester's (NY) first black mayor

Police killings of Black Americans

The strengths and weaknesses of US cities during a pandemic

US local government structures

US mayors (2020)

US cities and Covid-19: Six pages of research & tables

COVID-19 hits African Americans hardest

Tony Favro:
In a divided America, trust
is a precious commodity

A comfortable life
Ultimately, trust is a matter of whether the goal of an idea or program is fulfilled in reality: “walking the talk” is how it might be expressed colloquially. If a person or group or organization or nation can be depended upon to do what they say, to be what they say they are—at least most of the time—they will earn trust.

As a white American with health insurance, a house that’s paid for, a safe neighborhood, children with college degrees and good jobs, no criminal record, no drug abuse in my family, social security and pension checks every month, money in the bank, the same wife for thirty-five years, and an adequate amount of respect in the community, I have a high degree of trust in American institutions.

My level of trust is a response to my experiences and, particularly, experienced predicaments: whenever I was ill, I could call a doctor and be assured of excellent, affordable medical care; the times I was without work, I had a nest egg to tide me over until the next inevitable employment contract; when I felt overwhelmed, I could take a vacation to escape and reboot; when I walked down the street, women didn’t look at me and clutch their pocketbooks in fear; and so on.

However, I also realize that, with every day that passes, I am more the exception, not the rule. A large and growing proportion of Americans have life experiences quite the opposite of mine.

The ideas and programs which successfully uplifted my white, male, baby boomer demographic cohort, now well past its zenith, have been eroded over the years, rather than extended to other groups, with a corresponding erosion of trust.

Establishing trust
Americans, whether native-born or immigrant, live their conscious lives in a nation that offers well-defined ideas for establishing trust. The Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Gettysburg Address are sacred writ in American life. The ideas that each person is “created equal” and that the US government is legitimate only if it is “of the people, by the people, and for the people” are accepted to mean that access to opportunity should be equal, that a free and democratic society is one which treats each person with equal concern and respect, and that individuals have a right to freedom of conscience, speech, and association.

In other words, Americans have ready-made goals for social and economic life, for living together and trusting one another.

Indeed, the highest moral achievements throughout the history of the United States have involved the embrace of American ideals. When Americans take these ideals to be worthy, their will is focused and defined in terms of a shared cause, they become allied with others committed to the cause, significant legal and financial commitments to the cause develop, and finally, the ideals become norms which regulate the behavior and thinking of all Americans.

Certainly, this sweeping view from history minimizes the very real differences that separate one person’s feelings, thoughts, and will from those of another, as well as the extraordinary struggles and personal sacrifices some individuals and groups are forced to make. In other words, the day-to-day view from the street is almost always much different from the lofty historical perspective. Consider how the burdens of social, economic, and environmental change have fallen disproportionately on certain groups, especially African-Americans. It was Blacks who were locked out of job titles and workplaces during the labor movement, set upon by dogs and beaten by police during the civil rights movement, allowed by law to buy property only in polluted and devalued areas during the environmental movement, and continue to be killed in disproportionate numbers by police. Consider how whites in the US have learned from parents, schools, and the media negative stereotypes of people of color and thus may view them with suspicion and hostility.

At the same time, in ordinary daily life, minds frequently do work in concert. Groups of different people often are unified in feeling, thought, and will by something that transcends any of the individuals present. American ideals do not save, but they are tools for reshaping social consciousness, and this is, and always has been, the power of movements for racial, social, economic, and environmental justice.

The power of American ideals ensures that Americans come to moral awareness in a world of already established goals. Moreover, the ideals establish social roles for each American to embrace; that is, being American unavoidably requires a self-conscious and deliberate individual choice to embrace particular causes. An American, for example, cannot totally tune out Black Lives Matter or other movements; sides must be taken. American ideals thus become points of reference for shared notions of truth, knowledge, personal identity, and purpose; that is, for the difficult task of building common ground and common good, for building trust.

Eroding trust
Despite the talk of bowling alone and the collapse of community in America, most Americans identify with one or more social groups: ethnic groups, peer groups, religious groups, neighborhood groups, corporations, unions, intellectual groups, local political movements, and other interest groups. Many of the worst deeds happen when one group pursues an interest, which is good for that group but is destructive of the conditions necessary for other groups to realize their interests. This was the source of, for example, the Wall Street versus Main Street conflict during the 2008 financial crisis and the so-called vaccine nationalism of the current pandemic, as well racism throughout the history of America.

It is hard for me and perhaps for any white American of my age to understand social change unless tied to economic change. I was born and raised in the post-war job boom of the 1950s and 1960s and a beneficiary in subsequent decades of historically unprecedented rises in personal wealth due mostly to increasing home values and stock values. Americans of my demographic feel valuable to the degree we feel we contribute, or contributed in our prime working years, to the economy. From this perspective, changes in the American economy have helped erode the conditions that lead to trust.

Over the past forty or so years, public and private investment has been directed into what will earn the largest corporate profit and not into what most people really need, and so public health, public education, and even public infrastructure like the drinking water supply system in Flint, Michigan receive relatively little attention. People are expected to work harder, faster, and longer, yet they earn no more than they did forty years ago when wages are adjusted for inflation. Labor unions used to call this exploitation; now, private-sector unions are mere shadows of their former selves, workers have no one to look out for them (except the government), and it seems employers are forever finding new ways to intensify exploitation, often with government’s blessing.

One result is that the rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer, many absolutely and the rest in relation to the rapidly increasing wealth of the rich. Another related result is that people with a lot of money begin to think of themselves as a better kind of human being and to view the poor with contempt. The poor, meanwhile, feel a hatred for the rich, powerful, and “elite”, mixed with a sort of envy and uneasy respect, even for a mediocre businessman like Donald Trump.

American economic changes in recent decades have fostered antisocial attitudes and emotions: “me first” and “winning at all costs” drive people in all areas of life. Economic change has led to personal anxiety and insecurity, as people worry about money all the time and fear losing their job, home, health care, etc. Networking has become a euphemism for using connections rather than merit to leapfrog ahead of the competition. Equal Opportunity is viewed by whites as a kind of unfair racial preference and a potential source of competitive disadvantage; historical inequities are overlooked in the push to get ahead. Many people see new ideas and new information as fake news or even a threat and reject them all together; they refuse to make space in their minds for new beliefs and harbor strong, negative feelings for long periods of time.

In an economic atmosphere which rewards competition over cooperation, feelings as well as ideas of mutual concern, common good, and relationships based on trust are seriously weakened, and often disappear, even among different groups with the same interests.

With people's thoughts and emotions affected so powerfully by their economic lives, it became relatively easy for former President Donald Trump to feed people illusions of lost greatness and fairy tales of how they can recover a past that never existed. It was easy for him to nurture grievances against bogeymen standing in their way—immigrants, Muslims, Blacks—and to amass 74 million votes in 2020 from the rich and the poor, the greedy, the aggrieved, and the unsure.

The Trump administration not only reinforced the economic, social, and psychological conditions that can destroy trust, but also engaged in a direct assault on American ideals, the very bedrock upon which Americans’ trust in institutions and in each other is built. With their disregard of truth, disregard of reality determined through inquiry and interpretation, and disregard of the rule of law, Donald Trump and his supporters threatened to destroy the purpose for, and goals of, meaningful social life in America.

Despite the Trump administration’s best efforts to divide Americans, people came together over the past four years in a massive and diverse women’s movement, Black Lives Matter movement, Me Too movement, and a movement by businesspersons to use corporate investments to meet environmental, social, and governance targets. And Americans voted Trump out of office by a large margin. This suggests that the basis for establishing trust in America remains strong, and will remain strong, as long as Americans remain committed to the nation’s ideals.

The pandemic has put an edge on how Americans, particularly white Americans, interpret American ideals. Much has been made about how Americans are no longer the same as before the pandemic and will never again be the same when public life fully returns.

For white Americans, the pandemic placed an unaccustomed and unwelcome layer of fear beneath the top layer of our skin. All strangers are a potential source of danger; we can’t quite figure out the safest move. We feel preyed upon. It should be over, we think.

Fear is a natural response to a threat, whether Covid-19 or racism. Many white Americans feel a fear of something over which they have no control for the first time in their lives. The leap of imagination is no longer so large for white Americans to understand the fear that burrows beneath the skin of a person of color touched by racism.

It is acknowledging that they themselves may be the source of the fear caused by racism that bedevils many white Americans.

The unfair advantage
There is a thriving industry in the US of Americans helping other Americans discover and exploit their “unfair advantage”; that is, their unique combination of personal traits and assets that sets them apart from other people and puts them in a better position in business and society. Thousands of consultants, corporate trainers, leadership coaches, university professors, and online gurus make a good living by telling people how to find their unfair advantage and by publishing hundreds of books and articles on the subject.

It is ironic to me that white Americans spend so much of their time looking for their unfair advantage but have a hard time admitting to white privilege. Privilege and advantage are synonyms. Whiteness is, and always has been, an advantage, a privilege in America. It becomes truly unfair when it goes against just about every American value: equality, unity, justice, and so on.

If you are advantaged, or privileged, there is a good chance that your life is easier in some way: you will likely have a better job, better income, better education, for example. It’s also a good bet that the life of someone without those privileges is harder in some way.

I have always been able to depend on resources larger than myself to help me meet my personal and professional needs. I never personally controlled these laws, policies, and programs—except perhaps indirectly through the voting booth—but white America did. Congress and the legislatures of every state are and always have been comprised of a majority of white, mostly elderly, males. Ultimately, I trusted the American political and economic structure to give me good options, and the good options increased my willingness and capacity to trust in American institutions and American ideals.

It is easy for one to believe he or she made good choices in life when all your options are relatively good, when the deck is stacked in your favor, when the rules are made by people just like you for the benefit of people just like you. I realize I almost always had good choices, and every incentive to avoid bad choices—options that being educated, employed, and, especially, white and male gave to me, but not to all Americans unlike me.

I have come to recognize this as more than a sign of privilege or majority rule. Rather, it is a sign of weakness. Individuals and groups in retreat find ways and excuses to fear or ignore others and protect themselves through self-serving actions—all of which, ultimately, signify their loss of trust in their own future.

The alternative in America is to expand the circle of influence and unity. This demands leaders in Congress, statehouses, city halls, businesses, and communities committed to creating unity and an environment that encourages and rewards citizens for trusting and living up to America’s ideals, an environment based, as Bill Johnson says, on “advocacy, collaboration, mutual respect for conflicting viewpoints, and the earnest search for new solutions.”

Final thoughts
There are a lot of things that America has to do differently to create an equitable and inclusive nation. But it’s hard to think of any plausible political, economic, or social solutions that do not begin with a clear understanding of privilege.

Privilege is a complicated concept. Not all privileges are equal and not all privileges are necessarily bad; indeed, a healthily competitive society is meaningless without advantage and disadvantage. And not all white persons have easy lives, even if their whiteness indisputably matters.

Understanding privilege is about unraveling the myriad ways different people’s lives are made more difficult for reasons we often refuse to consider, and, especially, for reasons white Americans often refuse to consider. It’s an essential step to building empathy, to building trust, to earning and showing respect, to, as Bill Johnson says, “achieving true justice and equity by eliminating the big gaps in Black and white experience.”

Amaechi, John. Privilege blinds us to the plight of others who lack it. Financial Times, November 17, 2020 Link.

Ollman, Bertell. Market Economy: Advantages and Disadvantages. Speech at Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing, China, October l999. Link.

Parker, Kelly A. Josiah Royce. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Spring 2020 Edition, Edward N. Zalta (ed.) (Link).

Singer, Joseph W. Democratic Values and the American Constitution Society. Harvard Law & Policy Review, December 2020 (Link).

Bill Johnson:
For police to serve all,
they must be trusted by all

Exclusion creates mistrust
Several months ago, in the immediate aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd, my longtime colleague Tony Favro and I jointly wrote a City Mayors essay, analyzing the 400-year history of racism in America, from our White and Black perspectives. On this occasion, we are examining how both racial groups view the concept of “trust” in American ideals, and why it is viewed so differently by both groups. His is from the vantage point of privilege, while mine is from the vantage of exclusion.

As Tony sees it, many White people have every reason to have complete trust in institutions and ideals which define the essence of their existence: unfettered access to a good life of quality education, quality housing, economic well-being, safe neighborhoods and the happy pursuit of every opportunity placed before them.

Few Black, Latina and other people of color are in the position to “embrace American ideals”’ given the disconnection between fact and fiction. The Declaration of Independence’s assertion that “all men are created equal” was a lie from the moment that those words were penned, given that Black men and women of any color or class were excluded in that formulation. The concept that we are “one nation indivisible” is totally lacking in truth, given the legal and extralegal actions to divide people by race, gender and class. Other American ideals are contradicted by the notion that we are a society committed to “equal justice for all”, given the blatant racial and economic disparities between those who are prosecuted and incarcerated, as well as the assertion that there is “equal opportunity”, “equal access” and “diversity and inclusion” in every competitive situation. How many people of color have applied to an “equal opportunity employer” only to be told that there are no more jobs (1). We are not talking about ancient history. These contradictions and disparities tenaciously exist today.

This essay is written for an international audience. Many readers will have limited, or no, understanding of the American criminal justice system or the long, sordid and well-documented history of racism in America. In many nations, policing is a function of, funded by and regulated by the national government. In the US, there are nearly 18,000 autonomous police agencies, each governed by local laws and regulations. There is no way to institute a single standard for constitutional and lawful policing, in the absence of a national mandate backed by overwhelming public support and incorporated in 50 state laws.

Policing is a major manifestation of our race problem; racial polarization is deeply engrained—and routinely downplayed or overly dramatized—depending on your perspective. Many White people, especially older ones, view policing in an extremely favorable light, based on their positive interactions. Most Black people think of police in the most fearful and oppressive terms. We believe that there can be no good encounter with them.

There are big gaps in these experiences, and only when there are frank and sincere efforts to eliminate them will true justice and equity be achieved. I want to examine two major developments in recent months to show how far we must still travel to achieve this goal.

George Floyd’s murder, captured on live video and endlessly broadcast around the world, was a seminal moment in law enforcement and jurisprudence. There could be no denial of the crime that the eye was seeing, and there was no doubt who the culprit was. It unleashed a potent political backlash, fueled by multi-racial and multi-generational protest movements worldwide. At that moment, we appeared headed towards transformative and accountable change. Soon, those prospects seemed to become a victim of Presidential politics. A corrupt and racist incumbent President attempted to capitalize on racial fears and threats of deadly violence, as an insidious strategy for holding on to his power.

It almost worked. Seventy-four (74) million people voted to keep him; eighty-one (81) million voted for his ouster. Even after a resounding defeat at the polls, many of his supporters refused to accept the truth of his defeat. Optimism in early 2020 was overwhelmed by cynicism and dishonesty in the election season, and a series of unimaginable events ushered in the new year.

2021 has, to date, been a very disturbing year. The spectacle of protestors storming the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021—a day of infamy, domestic insurrection and terrorism unlike any ever seen in American history—still sends seismic reverberations through our conscious memories. Three months afterwards, dramatic new video evidence and the continuing arrests and prosecutions of perpetrators further document the depths of this treachery. This was no mere protest over disputed election results; this was the culmination of long simmering fury over the loss of economic status and political standing of supposedly privileged White males. Their demonstrable resort to tyranny reflects their loss of trust in a system that had bestowed many benefits on them.

In one of the many videos of live action from the scene, one of the protesters screamed into the cameras: “The government did this to us. We were normal, law abiding citizens, and you did this to us.” These “normal law-abiding citizens” felt that they had no other recourse than to violently overthrow their government? We can only imagine the massive human carnage and property destruction that would have occurred if something (we do not know exactly what) had not deterred and dispersed these plunderers.

Here are the first questions that arouse the “trust gap” and “cynicism” of progressive thinking people: How was such a relatively small band of people allowed to breach supposedly impenetrable security, enter the inner sanctum of legislative offices and chambers, seek out members of Congress and its leadership, including the Vice President of the United States, bring in an arsenal of weapons and disabling devices, all without encountering a massive resistance from the government’s security forces? Why did the Capital Police fire only one shot to hold back a mob that was on the verge of busting into the House chamber where many members were hunkered in fear for their lives? Why weren’t reinforcements rushed to the scene? And more urgently, why were these people, who had just engaged in unimaginable criminal acts against the government of the United States, allowed to leave the buildings and the Capital grounds without one person being arrested?

The conclusion is inescapable that if this lawless mob had been Black and/or from the so-called radical left, all hell would have broken loose to forcibly deter them. That conclusion can be inferred from no less of an authority than Senator Ron Johnson (Republican-Wisconsin), who afterwards proclaimed that he personally did not fear for his safety on that day, because the insurrectionists were White “people who loved their country and law enforcement”, or more to the point, they were not Black or Antifa. Those absurd comments were not repudiated by his Republican colleagues.

This insurrection was one of the most brazen displays of White privilege ever witnessed. The culprits had no fear or expectation of being held criminally liable for their actions. They actually felt entitled to engage in capricious behavior.

2021 has also seen a continuation of deadly police power unleashed on unarmed Black citizens, in numerous U.S. communities. Since George Floyd’s death, the killings continued unceasingly. CBS News reported that three months after Floyd’s death, 288 people were killed by police in the U.S.; 59 were Black (2). It seemed as though police officials were completely oblivious to outrage over the actions of renegade officers.

The rational mind cannot conceive of why this culture of police misconduct and violence is so pervasive, even while making allowance for the fact that police officers have to deal with difficult and complicated scenarios. While acknowledging their legal right to use deadly force in specified circumstances, we continue to question why Black men must disproportionately feel the brunt of this deadly force.

Several sources, including The Washington Post, have recorded every police shooting publicly reported since 2015. In five plus years, through April 16, 2021, the Post documented 5,669 such shootings. While slightly more than half of the victims have been White, Blacks have been killed at a rate of nearly 2.5 times as Whites, and Latinas are killed at a rate of 1.8 times. Blacks and Latinas only account of 24.7 % of the U.S. population, but account for 45% of the people killed by police (3).

In too many instances, Whites have survived armed confrontations with police, or police went out of their way to de-escalate tense situations involving White suspects; but encounters with Black and Latina suspects ended very quickly with deadly force. An example of this double standard is Kyle Rittenhouse, a then-17-year-old White Illinois resident who journeyed to Kenosha, Wisconsin in August 2020, when rioting broke out after a local Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot several times in the back by police on a domestic dispute incident for which he was never charged. Rittenhouse, on the other hand, was armed with an AR-15 rifle and killed two men and wounded another. The police did not take him in custody after the shootings, and he was allowed to leave the state and return home before being charged with multiple counts of homicide. No charges were filed against the officer who shot Blake. Again, the contrast is vivid indicator of the police response to a Black man suspected of minor charges, compared with their initial lack of action against a White man charged with two homicides.

It is this perception of the double standard that must be resolved between Black and White. There is also the need to address how to achieve needed reforms. One way is to extend the same style of policing to Black folks that Whites routinely enjoy.

I know that progressive policing reforms can be accomplished. During my twelve years as Mayor of Rochester, New York (1994-2005), we implemented progressive, best-practices models for community-oriented policing and citizen engagement. I speak from knowledge and experience that changing policing attitudes, behaviors and culture is not mere theory, but also achievable.

At that time, a force of about 700 uniformed officers averaged between 350,000 and 400,000 annual interactions with the public, and the overwhelming majority did not end in deadly force, or even in a negative encounter. These numbers are not cited to diminish the seriousness of police misconduct, but as evidence that police officers routinely exercise restraint in their public interactions. It just seems that when a police encounter goes from routine to excessive, the victim of that excess is typically a citizen of color.

Complaints about police misconduct, particularly use of force and acts of disrespect, almost always came from Black and Latina citizens. Rarely did I hear a White citizen complain of bad or illegal policing. I translated this to mean that there were few, if any such encounters with White citizens, who at the time comprised nearly 50% of the city’s population. They represent a pattern and practice that reflects deep systemic racism, which translate into acts of disrespect and dehumanization directed at an entire race of people.

I recently co-chaired the Rochester-Monroe County Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE), which was appointed within 30 days of George Floyd’s death. The Commission concluded six months of review, analysis and prioritization, by setting forth a series of recommendations to replace laws, policies, practices and programs that have supported and perpetuated structural inequities across several systems. They have the effect of prohibiting Blacks and other racial minorities from unrestricted enjoyment of all the rights and opportunities that society provides, and from equally participating in decisions that affect our lives (4).

The report identifies four types of racism: internalized, interpersonal, institutional and structural. Most people have a clear understanding of the first two categories and a general recognition of the third. It is the fourth, structural racism, whose impact is not generally understood, and which is now gaining so much recent attention and scrutiny. It was the major focus of the RASE report. It is described as “a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work to routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color… Structural racism is not something that a few people or institutions choose to practice. Instead, it is a feature of the social, economic, and political systems in which we all exist. It is interdependent, interacting and compounding” (5).

The effects of structural racism within the Rochester Police Department are discussed in the report and a series of recommendations for how to overcome it are spelled out in detail (6).

There are too many White people who cringe at the mention of racism, even when the point of reference is institutional and systemic, and not individual acts. They take it as a personal indictment. You cannot have a meaningful discussion on the merits of persistent societal inequities when all listening and reason ceases at the mention of the root cause of the problem. America will never overcome racism until the White majority is as outraged by its persistence and malignancy as the people who are victimized by it. Nor will it be overcome by people desiring to avoid an uncomfortable discussion.

Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict partially alleviated that discomfort for many people. Repudiating Chauvin’s innocence was easy. His blatantly criminal misconduct could not be condoned as legitimate exercise of police authority. Bystander Darnella Frazier’s 9 1⁄2 minute cellphone video of Floyd’s neck being compressed by Chauvin’s knee was irrefutable. This case, unlike any other, was an easy decision for the jury. Before we can assert that it represents a new standard for police prosecutions, several changes must occur.

Three extraordinary events occurred during this trial:
• A large number of police officers, including former colleagues, testified against Chauvin. The “blue wall of silence” was breached, suggesting that he had crossed an unacceptable line. Will officers continue to repudiate colleagues who engage in extralegal and criminal conduct?

• The video of Chauvin actually committing the crime was incontrovertible evidence rarely seen in these equally rare police prosecutions. It is unusual to have this type of “caught in the act” evidence against police officers. Will future cases require such conclusive corroboration to convict?

• This trial was televised live to a national audience, another rarity. The eyes of the world were literally on the prosecution and jury to do justice for George Floyd. The prosecution presented compelling evidence and very competent witnesses to reinforce the evidence. A very racially diverse jury very quickly decided that the prosecution proved its case beyond doubt. Will non-televised trials, observed by only a handful of people, produce the same results?

It is rare that all of these factors align so perfectly, and it may not be easy to gain a conviction in future cases in the absence of this alignment. So, expecting that justice will be routinely served in upcoming cases may be difficult. But not impossible.

Meaningful and sustainable reform achieved through advocacy, collaboration, mutual respect for conflicting viewpoints and the earnest search for new solutions will obviously be the recommended course to pursue. This will require a willingness of the affected parties to come together to break new ground. There is no question that the nation needs a new model of policing that must be embraced by the communities where those 18,000 autonomous police agencies are located. They must be willing to be trained on new standards for constitutional and lawful policing, modeled on the recommendations set forth by the 2015 Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing (7).

People who rarely interact with each other - “Black Lives” activists and their progressive allies, “Blue Lives” supporters and their conservative allies, Democrats and Republicans, Police Unions and Mayors - must, in the words found in the Old Testament, be willing to “settle disputes for many peoples [and] beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (8). The nation must consciously work to reform policing practices, which so profoundly endangers the safety and liberty of an entire group of citizens.

Within 24 hours of the Chauvin verdict, there were six deadly police shootings across the country. While the circumstances varied widely, these cases make clear that this is not a problem that is going away anytime soon. The racial implications are becoming more intense and more complex.

It is absolutely essential for Police Labor Unions to become a part of this reform discussion. For too long, they have acted as though their only option was to defend the status quo. Defending the killing of unarmed citizens as justifiable, or as “following their training” is unacceptable and irrelevant. Excluding their participation in reform discussions is also unacceptable. It is essential that rank and file police officers, who feel under siege because of the lawless behavior of their colleagues, understand the imperative to elect progressive union leadership, to work with a new breed of progressive Police Chiefs, who together will meet the demands for contemporary policing. Policing has been irrevocably changed by technology like body-worn cameras and smartphones in the hands of vigilant citizens, as well as pervasive surveillance technology all around the community.

These new levels of scrutiny do not allow for defensiveness, and they do demand accountability. And it is when enlightened police officials and the rank and file recognize that accountability for their on-the-job behavior will only intensify that we will reach a long overdue point where individuals like Derek Chauvin will find no place in police work, and people like George Floyd will not have their life expectancy shortened by oppressive and capricious acts by people acting under the color of law.

Tony Favro and I have explored the various implications of American Racism through our respective eyes and from our distinctly different backgrounds. Tony speaks to the abundant trust that many white people have in the American “way of life”, because so many of them have benefitted greatly from it. He calls out this privilege for what it is: one that disproportionately rewards people who look like him, and which consistently disadvantages people who look like me. Through difficult discussions among reasonable minds, and building upon the modest progress to date, I am encouraged that we can aspire to achieve an unprecedented level of trust for policing in communities of color.

1. An “equal opportunity employer” reflects a status enforced by the federal government to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

2. Li Cohen, It’s been over 3 months since George Floyd was killed by police. Police are still killing Black people at disproportionate rates. CBS News, September 10, 2020 (

3. Fatal Force, Police Shootings Database, 2015-2021 (Updated April 16, 2011) (

4. No Time For Excuses: It’s Time For Action. The Report of the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity. Rochester NY, 2021 (

5. Ibid, pp. 24-25.

6. Ibid, pp. 216-222. There are discussions of policing reforms in other parts of the report.

7. Final Report of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The report was submitted to President Barack Obama in 2015 and created a road map for the future of policing and provided clear direction on how to build trust with the public (

8. Isaiah 2:4.

Bill Johnson
William A. Johnson Jr. is the former Mayor of Rochester, New York (1994-2005), President and CEO of the Urban League of Rochester (1972-1993), and the Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Urban Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology (2006-2013). In 2004, he was a finalist for the World Mayor prize. Johnson founded Strategic Community Intervention LLC in 2013 and currently serves as CEO.

Tony Favro
Tony Favro is a retired urban planner and real estate developer with over 40 years experience in the private and public sectors. He has conducted professional workshops and lectured at several universities in the United States and Europe, and is the author of Hard Constant: Sustainability and the American City (London: City Mayors Foundation, 2012). His Ph.D. is from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.

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