Racial Profiling

Jay Rothman 

President of the ARIA Group, Inc.

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Now this leads directly to Cincinnati in kind of a poetic way, which is that in 2001 a federal judge, Judge Susan Dellade???, began seeing a pattern of proposed lawsuits about racial profiling in Cincinnati from several different sources, and she said to herself and then to these proposed litigants, I was a domestic relations attorney, and as a domestic relations attorney before I became a judge, I was very frustrated that the court was often the absolutely wrong place to solve these deeply emotional issues.

So now as I'm seeing a pattern of racial profiling lawsuits here and across the country, it seems to me that the courtroom is not the first stop. We need to try something else, and then if it needs to end up in the courtroom to ratify it or to consolidate some kind of process or agreement, let's do that. Lawyers, first of all, I want to bundle these into a class action suit, potentially, or propose a class action, a class rather, and then can you guys go find something different? What's a different way that we can handle this than having a win-lose litigation process in court.? I want to avoid the ??? front against the city, the ACLU against the police, millions of dollars, many, many years later, more frustration "

Q: Sounds like quite an active, visionary judge.

A: Very. Really outside the box. One of the lawyers, Al Gerhard Stein???,was a visionary civil rights attorney, and he had sued all these folks for many years and he was tired of it. You know, he said, I sue them and I might win, I might lose, but in the end society doesn't change. Individuals might get money, the city might have to make an adjustment, might get embarrassed, but it doesn't really change things. So he ended up calling Steve Kelban, who is the President and director of this foundation, the Andrus Family Fund that I had done the work with at the foster care agency. He said to them, I see that part of your money is for community relations and community reconciliation, and our community should know this. We're an innovation in that. We've been asked to do something, we're not sure what to do. We know we're going to need some money for it. Would this be interesting for your organization? And Steve Kelban said, very interesting, we're interested in police-community relations, we're interested in alternatives to litigation, and we happen to know somebody who lives 60 miles from you who could be the right person to use a methodology that he's been developing to help you do this.

So, I went down and I started meeting the folks. Met the judge, met some of the parties to the lawsuit, and my first proposal to them was to do an ARIA because what I was seeing is that everybody had a different take on what racial profiling was, and as we know in our field, unless you frame a problem in common, there's no way to solve it. So the police had one definition, the community had one definition, and the ACLU had another definition. So we needed to do a conflict framing process. It made a lot of sense, it was rational, there was a lot of heat there, we'll see what we can do to put some light on the situation. The police said, you know, Rothman, you've been introduced as someone who can help us solve problems and build collaboration. If you frame this as a problem-framing problem dynamic, we know who's gonna be framed. We're gonna be blamed and we're not interested. If you're gonna do it that way we'll go back to court and we'll win. So, what else you got for us, Rothman? You know, they're starting to get out of their chairs. I said, well, the other side of the coin of problems are goals.

Conflicts are one side and the other side are visions. And yes, I have a process that does that, and in fact, I've just come from a foundation that recommended me because of the work we did together at this foster care agency, and it might be a good parallel for what you guys need. We asked the kids, what do you want for your future and the staff said, now we understand and we're going to work together to make that happen. Maybe we need to do that in Cincinnati. Maybe we need to ask the community and the police, what is it you want for your future, in terms of your interactions with each other, and how can you get that? So we'll move away from the blame game. We're not going to directly address racial profiling right now. We're going to address what's beneath racial profiling which are the troubles in police-community relations. The police loved it. They said sure, police-community relations is a major concern of ours, and if this can help us get to that, then this will have been worth it. The city said absolutely, this is going to help us avoid a lawsuit, and maybe we can get community involvement helping us think about how to do that. Sure, we'd love it.

The Black United Front and the ACLU said, "Well, we're not so sure, because we want an outcome, which is going to hold your feet to the fire, you know. If we come up with an agreement about how the police have to change, then we want to make sure you do it because we don't trust you and we have good reasons not to trust you." And their lawyers said, well, this is going to be sponsored by the federal court. So if we get an agreement, this is going to be overseen and mandated by the federal court. The Black United Front said fine, we'll do it. So we were off and running, and we now had a project modeled after our little foster care agency for all of Cincinnati.

Q: So this was an evaluation process at the outset, I mean it was designed as an evaluation process. You're using it now in the middle of a very deeply protracted conflict.

A: That's right. What it suggests, I think, is that it's not so far from its origins, because before beginning any kind of intervention we have to do a rigorous assessment. And who's the best to do the assessment? The people in the conflict. Now this assessment was looking forward. In the looking forward you're defining conflicts. You're saying, what I want for police-community relations as a youth is I want to be respected. Alright. So that's the reverse side of the coin of problems, but clearly the opposite of the respect you want for the future is the lack of respect you've had in the past. And the police will say similar types of goals, and so forth.

In the end, this group which were to be the litigants, now became my advisory group and they began designing the project. And the first thing they did is they designed a stake holding group notion, which I asked them to do. I modeled the three stake-holding groups that we had in the foster agency. Who needs to be involved in defining a different future, if that future's going to be able to be built and sustained? And they came up with eight groups: youth, African American citizens, business, education, the foundation group was one, white citizens, city officials or leadership, religious leaders and social service agencies and I'm forgetting one eight groups in all.

Each of these eight groups were invited to share their visions for the future of police-community relations, and they were invited to do it through our website. There was a whole bunch of media. One of the first things we did is we hired a media consultant, and we got her to help us sell this vision to the whole of Cincinnati. I forgot to mention an important thing, which is three weeks after we started this process, a 15-year-old black man was shot by a police officer in a dark alley late at night, and riots broke out. Most people think that our process began after the riots.

Q: I did.

A: That's right. They began before the riots, and this is another thing about how important it is to be proactive, to have some people with vision to say there's something rumbling here, we'd better get a handle on it, which is what the judge did. So, now, that's not to say that the riot didn't propel our work. With the riots and then with our being in place, we therefore were able to really tap into the imagination of the media. We were all over the media. For weeks to start with and then actually for the whole year, we had the front page dozens of times, we were in editorials, we were on the radio, we were on television, and it was very on purpose.

Q: When you say we, it's ARIA group?

A: Well, the whole process. I mean, I ended up being the spokesperson for it, but they would come to our sessions and they would televise the sessions and they'd write articles about them. We had New York Times coverage, we were on NPR. And this was all strategic, because part of what we had to do for Cincinnati was say you can do something different. You know, the whole world is looking at you and saying, Cincinnati, what a backward place. Britain had a travel ban on Cincinnati, or a travel warning, I guess. And all over the country people were saying Cincinnati, you know, a race riot, where are they?

So Cincinnati first of all was feeling pretty defensive about that. We're a nice place, they said, so we screwed up here, but leave us alone. And I said, no, that's not enough, guys. Maybe you're a nice place, maybe you're not, but you've got to be something different, and here's a way to do it. So, Cincinnati can sing. We used some of these flowery metaphors and we got the media to say, okay, not only can Cincinnati sing, but the media can cover some good stuff. We've had a lot of coverage about the riots and about people's antagonisms. Now we're going to have a lot of coverage about the possibility of reinventing ourselves. The media then helped us do outreach. So we articulated the eight different stake-holding groups and on the front page of the media was, share your visions for the future of Cincinnati. Articulate what your goals are for the future of police-community relations, and they gave our website. And same thing on the television, same thing on the radio. We got them to be our advertisers. We had a very small budget, but we got a lot of help.

Q: But now the people who are responding to that aren't necessarily the groups that you mentioned. Or if they don't self-identify do you place them in those groups?

A: They self-identify. They have a choice, and they're told that even though they're members of many groups Other minorities was the eighth group; Hispanics, gays and lesbians, Jewish community, Asian community, they all were grouped into an "other minority" group. So we had all eight of them and they had the choice of where they would put themselves. A black businessman would have to choose. Am I going to go in the African American stake holding group or am I going to go in the businessperson stake holding group? And that was hard for some people, for all of us because we have so many identities.

But the question was, with this issue of racial profiling, or more specifically for us, the future of community-police relations, what identity do you want to be speaking from? So they put themselves into that. In the end we got 3,500 people to respond. The youth group was the only one that responded differently than the others because we developed a strategy to reach out to them. The others came to us through the website. For the youth group, we hired eighteen field workers and we sent them into the streets. We sent them into the clubs. We sent them into the neighborhoods, very consciously saying, a lot of the youths or the kids in the disturbances or the riots or whatever you'd call it who were so upset, can we give them the opportunity to help create a future they want to be a part of?

Q: When you say youth, you don't mean black youth, white youth, Korean youth, Hispanic youth ?

A: All of them. Very specifically we did target the youth from over the Rhine???, which was the African American ghetto, a very depressed ghetto in Cincinnati where the disturbances were really centered. We also went to Lower Price Hill???, which is a white, Appalachian community. So we did specifically go there, because those are somewhat the disenfranchised kids who more than others might be having run-ins with the police, though we also invited all other youth.

In the end we got 750 youth to respond, meaning they gave us about 2000 goals, because each of them can respond to up to three goals each. And you roll your eyes about how complex that would be or how difficult, I imagine. It's not, because we have this database system that helps us group. It's not a smart database, it can do searches for us. But once we start looking for patterns and we find them, we can tag them. So an initial pattern we saw, and I already mentioned it, was we want more respect from the police, that's our goal. And the "why" would be because we're fed up with not being treated equally or well, and we've seen what happens when people are treated disrespectfully. And "how," you know they come up with all sorts of "how" ideas. By encounters, by having the police walk our streets a little bit more instead of failing to get out of their cars, bicycling on ride-alongs with them, meeting each other.

So they come up with fairly concrete, practical ideas. But the what and the why were very big. So we'd start seeing a pattern for that, we would tag it through our database system, and then we would have a category. So then we'd keep searching through the 2000 goals and it turns out that 200 of the 2000 had to do with respect. So we're done with those 200, and then we go through the others, and by the end of this sorting process, we have about ten goals that will fit all 2000. There might be some outliers, and then we put those in a unique category. So now we have an articulation, or redaction rather, of the 2000 goals that the student youth have given us and we invite the youth back for a feedback session.

The first thing we do in the feedback session, as you heard me tell with the foster care agency, is we have them sit in small groups and talk about their why responses with each another, we give them back their data. One of the things about this whole action evaluation process is the data is owned by the folks that we work with. We're not researchers trying to use it for our purposes. We're action evaluators or interveners trying to use data to help them do the work they need to do to create the changes they want. So we give them back their data, which is all protected and confidential, we give it back to them privately, and say let's go around now and share with each other your whys. Either share back what you wrote, supplement it, go somewhere else because being here changes your feeling, or pass if you're not comfortable doing this.

Q: So you got 750 kids to come in ?

A: No, no. When folks give in their responses, they check a box which says, I'm willing to come back to a session. So we had a couple dozen that came, quite small. But they were there as representatives of the 750 that responded. From our religious social service group, we had 125 that came. It was harder to get the youth to come. But anyway, we had a couple dozen and they were fabulous, really dynamic kids. They sit in their small groups, they have their "why" discussions, which are facilitated by volunteer facilitators. We had 70 that signed up to be volunteers, and we trained them.

On a weekly basis we met with them. And then after they have their "why" dialogue, they select a representative to go into a fishbowl. So of the 30 people that were there, about ten of them were selected to be the representatives to go into the center. You see this is how this is folding in. We have 750 respondents, we have 30 or 40 folks that come back to the meeting and have dialogue, we have ten that then are responsible for reaching the platform of agreement about their goals. So I give them my list of ten goals. I say, I created the first cut of these goals from your 2000. You know, all of us in this field know how to do this, you do this with flip chart paper and it takes a couple hours and it's not very efficient.

There's a sense of involvement, but we've done the front-end work for them. And then we say to them, now, this is just a first cut. It's not meaningful until you decide what's meaningful. So we had a goal for I remember it very specifically We had a goal which said create respect both ways. Because some of the folks said, you know, our goal is for mutual respect from police and community. Some said our goal is for the police to respect us. So we would group those into "respect both ways." The kids looked at that for a while and they talked about it, and they said, actually what we want is to create relationships of respect between the police and the community.

And there's a whole lot of words missing around "the community." Who is the community and how do we create respect. But they got that, and through this dialogue process and their consulting with the others who were in their groups we had breaks for them to talk with their colleagues they had a great sense of ownership of this particular goal, and then they came up with five more. So they took our ten and they redacted them down to their five. And these are theirs. So these ten people representing the 30-40 people in the room, representing the 750 who responded, representing all youth in Cincinnati, had five goals for the future of police-community relations. All eight groups do the same thing separately. We take the database and we then look for the shared ideals across all eight groups, and then we came up with five.

We brought back 60 representatives from the eight groups and then they did a voting process. Are these five goals acceptable as a statement representative of all of Cincinnati for the future of police-community relations in the city? And we got a 58-2 vote. Couldn't get everybody. And in fact we did majority rules here because we had the press of time and efficiency and there's always going to be one or two folks who may not go along. And at this point we needed to move ahead. We had the press of a negotiation that had to happen. So 58-2 is pretty good. We got a lot of dynamism. Again the media was there showing all this, showing it on TV and creating the platform for negotiations to begin.

So now we have negotiations with those who were going to be litigators representing the city, representing the Black United Front, representing the police, and representing the ACLU. I took these five principles that had been articulated by this community and I hired a policing expert and I said, can you tell me how these principles have been developed in other places.

So one of the principles was something about a problem-oriented partnership between police and community. . And he said problem-oriented policing is the new wave. That's where we're talking about policing being something that helps us proactively identify patterns of problems and then work with the community both to identify those patterns and address them. So we discover that after school on this street there's loitering around this shop. Therefore, let's develop some foot patrols of parents and principals in this shop so there's not drug use and there's not any kind of loitering that's problematic.

Instead of coming down on them after they're there and doing those things, we're going to be proactive and prevent them. And it's going to be a problem-solving partnership between police and community. So my police expert comes back with all of this and together we then write a single text, the single text being drawn from the five principles, building on the best practices from around the country, and we give the parties a 40-page document. And they begin a negotiation process.

The negotiation process begins in January, it ends mid-April, and it wasn't a straight line. Despite the fact that we had built this very powerful collaborative foundation, the lawyers went back to their default mode, which is let's win, not lose. Let's get the best for our clients and give up the least. Now, throughout the process I was constantly reminding them, you have an obligation. You set this process up, all these folks gave you their hope, they gave you their ideals for a collaborative outcome where there are all winners and no losers. So, careful about going back to your default. Of course you have to protect and promote the interests of your clients, but what you really have to do, on top of that, in order to do that, you need to respond to these ideas.

Q: So the lawyers weren't considered a stakeholder at this point? I mean it seems like you had to do some extra work to manage that relationship, and that's not exactly prescribed in the action evaluation.

A: You're absolutely right. Ideally, what I tried to do, and I didn't succeed, is I tried to make them a stakeholder and I tried to actually convince them that they had to model this new dynamic of collaboration. And I only got grudging involvement and only intermittent. You know, they were willing to support this process, but they weren't willing to throw themselves in fully. They were willing to build on it and use the principles and the ideals that we gave them in the single text, but then they moved back into some default modes.

Nonetheless, three months later, after some bloody negotiations, we succeeded in creating a collaborative agreement that has been lauded as a model for police-community relations around the country. John Ashcraft came to Cincinnati and signed this as the model for the future. The ACLU talked about this as a model for addressing these deep problems.