Recently the Seattle Police Department has implemented a training program to address allegations and perceptions of racial profiling. That’s where police take action only because or partly because of a person’s race. It’s a hot political issue and there there isn’t even agreement on the definition, “partly because” or “only because.” As a narcotics agent in the 1970s I did racial profiling based on “partly because” definition handed down to me by my superiors. The profiles were written down. But that was then.
The training chosen by the department is called Perspectives on Profiling an interactive computer program funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and produced by Tools for Tolerance, part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. All SPD employees will take the training which uses actors in scenarios designed by police officers. The action stops so that officers can discuss and critique the action and then make a decision using a remote control. That decision leads to another set of circumstances which then require another decision.
A great idea, right? Not so fast. The Muslim community in Seattle is outraged. Last night I attended a community meeting sponsored by SPD and I learned why.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is building a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem on the site of an 800-year-old Muslim cemetery called Mamila. Fifty years ago the Israelis built a parking lot on part of the cemetery and this will become the site of the museum. Two points of view about this project are expressed at Haaretz. com and at Wiesenthal.com
The dilemma for Seattle is whether to offend (perhaps too mild a word) the Muslim community by going forward with a training program with ties to the desecration of a cemetery, or to abandon the expenditure of time and money invested in Perspectives. No one has questioned the quality or efficacy of the program which, from my brief viewing, is excellent. Muslim advocates state that there are equivalent products available not connected with the Wiesenthal Center.
What occurs to me is that should Seattle pull the program and go with another, the controversy will end. The Muslim community will have made its point, but the construction of the museum will go forward and the story of Mamila will then be lost along with other accounts of injustices against Palestinians. No one seeing the new program will have a clue about this issue.
What if the program went forward to include an explanation of what the Wiesenthal Center has done in Jerusalem; to show that Tools for Tolerance is connected with an act of intolerance? Why not include information for the trainees showing how they, in Seattle, are still connected with that most tragic of world conflicts?