The Washington, DC, Police Department wants to educate cops about black history, so it’s mandating that all officers spend a day at the National Museum of African American History and Culture as part of their training. In a city where 46 percent of residents are black, the program is designed to teach officers about of the historical interactions between law enforcement and communities of color.
Since January, over 550 city cops have explored the museum through the program, and the department intends to train all of its 3,800 sworn officers and 660 civilian employees by end of summer. Groups of around 30 officers are given a thorough tour of the entire collection, which can take up to nine hours to complete. Starting at the lower levels, historians from local community colleges take the cops through four centuries of African American history, from the early African kingdoms through the Civil War to the Jim Crow era. There are also lessons on two of DC’s own historically black neighborhoods, U Street and Barry Farm.
In a ceremony announcing the initiative last Friday, Police Chief Peter Newsham said the museum tour encourages officers to think differently about the communities they police. He described the initiative as “an opportunity to see how police were viewed by people in the community and come face-to-face with the reality that not too long ago, police officers played an active role in the enforcement of many of the discriminatory and racist laws of the time,” according to the Washingtonian.
In a CNN report, DC Mayor Murial Bowser said that while crime is down in the city, negative interactions between police and communities of color persist. She praised the museum program as a positive step in addressing prejudice and bias in law enforcement. “We are excited that with Chief Newsham’s leadership more people in our city, especially police officers, will understand the African American experience in the city, and how it affects the work that they do today,” she said.
Similar educational programs are already underway in several other American cities, including Philadelphia and Chicago, and several Californian police academies have introduced similar courses for new recruits.
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