Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Public Administration as Social Justice

Public administration: it's not sexy. It's accountability, transparency, fiduciary responsibility, red-tape automatons with high-waisted jeans (oh wait, those are cool again?). When it's done well, nobody notices, and when it's done poorly, everyone chalks it up to the inherent ineptitude of public organizations. Change is hard-fought, takes time to implement, and is often hardly noticeable from the outside. 

My Facebook newsfeed is emotionally charged this week following the jury's decision in Ferguson, alternating between calls for civil disobedience, reports of riots, expressions of prayer, support for law enforcement, and just some straight-up racist sh*t. And reviewing the court documentation does not bring us (or, at least, me) clear answers on what happened, what should have happened, and what should happen next. 

Published before the decision was announced on Monday, this article from Time Magazine talks about a very promising program implemented during the Clinton era that equipped law enforcement officers with nonviolent tools for protecting the lives in their community alongside their own safety. Participants were provided with education on urban poverty, police work, and leadership, and developed mentorship relationships with at risk youth. 

The program was expensive, as training-intensive endeavors typically are, and ultimately cut despite its success. But maybe we can draw some inspiration from the Police Corps, apply and leverage some of its wisdom through partnerships with local community organizations whose missions align with those of police bureaus across the nation: making our communities safer. Maybe it's because I just read several thousand pages worth of case studies, but I believe in the power of public administration to fight systemic injustice. We haven't always used that power to its potential, and it's time.

There is a place for protesting, a place for prayer, a place for solidarity, and a place to talk about how we're going to use public programs and policies to bring about change. Public administration doesn't have to be boring or ineffectual. It can be creative and compassionate. It can - and should - be the power of the people coming together to support better policy, putting our taxpayer dollars towards smarter programs, and ultimately taking a proactive approach to fostering equity, understanding, and peace.