Case 2: The Community Reacts to Mr. Richardson’s Killing

You are a social worker with a neighborhood organizing effort in a large metropolitan area on the East Coast of the United States. While most of your efforts are focused on community services and infrastructure, including a successful campaign for a new community center a few years ago and an increase in city funding for youth recreation programs, you also worked with a group of residents last year to host a community dialogue about the state of police/community relations. On a humid afternoon in July, your cell phone starts frantically buzzing. Neighbors report that a young Black man— Dante Richardson—was shot to death during a routine traffic stop down the street from his daughter’s preschool, where he was headed to pick her up. Your stunned reading of your texts is interrupted by a call from one of your Board members. Mr. Richardson was a close friend of her son; they played in a youth basketball league together for years. She is surprised you do not recognize Mr. Richardson’s name, as he had a new job as a security guard at the nearby maternity clinic that your organization partners with on community health programming. As she hangs up, your Board member asks what you are going to do about this “murder”. Still trying to understand what happened, you open Twitter and see a flurry in your feed. Residents are apparently gathering at the site of Mr. Richardson’s shooting. His girlfriend and mother are giving emotional statements to reporters. Several people have posted a picture of preschool photo of his daughter, who has a huge smile and swinging pigtails. At least a few residents report that neighbors have formed a protective circle around Mr. Richardson’s body and are in a standoff with police investigators trying to clear the scene. Even before last year’s summit, your organization has long been concerned about the relationship between local residents and the police. As an African-American woman, you have experienced what you perceived as discriminatory and even hostile treatment from some officers, even as other members of the local police force have been active partners in your work, including serving as volunteer referees for your sports leagues and raffling off prizes for students who make the Honor Roll. Now, before you race out the door to run the six blocks to the site of the growing crowd, you try to think about how to proceed. As images flood your mind, you realize that you are feeling traumatized by another tragic death in your community. You feel an obligation to stand with Mr. Richardson’s family and provide them much-needed support; even though you have not practiced clinically in many years, you anticipate that they might need trauma services, and you know that their chances of getting access to quality, affordable mental health care in your community are slim. You picture the faces of your current cadre of youth leaders. You anticipate that they will be frightened and angry, and you do not know how you should respond. You expect that you will be asked to speak on behalf of your community, but you can’t imagine shouldering the emotions of your neighbors. At the same time, the picture of Mr. Richardson’s darling three-year-old is seared into your mind. You have the thought that his death could—finally—be the catalyst for a real accounting for police violence against Black men. First, though, you have to decide what to do once you catch your breath.

In response to residents’ escalating demands for action, you call a community meeting at your neighborhood center the evening before Mr. Richardson’s funeral. More than 60 people come, including teenagers, two of Mr. Richardson’s cousins, some of his friends (including your Board member’s son), several of the community members who have been involved in your organization over the past few years, and representatives of a regional anti-racist organization headquartered in a nearby city. The conversation is heated, but a consensus of sorts emerges: Everyone wants a concerted action after tomorrow’s funeral. Some argue for a peaceful march from the funeral home to the site of Mr. Richardson’s killing. Others want to protest outside the police headquarters, where the internal investigation into the details surrounding the shooting is ongoing. Some agitate that ‘violence must be met with violence’ and resist any commitment to nonviolence. While positions shift over the course of the three-hour meeting, some factions emerge, each with their own goals. How should you engage at this moment?

Youths’ goals:

Organizational leaders’ goals:

Regional anti-racist group’s goals:

Questions to consider:

  1. How would different theories explaining racial discrimination view the issue of police killing of unarmed Black residents? How might you incorporate this theoretical foundation into your work with affected community members?
  2. What micro social work practice tasks do you confront? What skills will you need in order to tackle these tasks effectively? Who is your ‘client’? How should you engage with these focal interests?
  3. How is your challenge different based on your field of practice? How might you approach this challenge differently if you were a social worker at the school Mr. Richardson’s daughter attended, or with the police department, or at the high school most of the youth in the community attend?
  4. What ethical dilemmas could you encounter in your work around the killing of Mr. Richardson? What should you consider as you decide how to approach these potential conflicts?
  5. Given what you know about human development and traumatic experiences, what challenges would you expect for this community moving forward? How might different individuals experience his killing differently?
  6. What are the mezzo-level social work practice challenges you face as a representative of your organization and a part of this evolving community response?
  7. How might your actions at the micro and mezzo levels lay a foundation for macro social change? Where might there be conflicts among the needs evidenced at these different levels?
  8. How does your understanding of the policy change process inform how you engage the community around the different options for action around Mr. Richardson’s funeral? How could you work collaboratively with the community to determine a course of action?
  9. Beyond the immediate crisis, what role could research play in countering police violence? What questions need to be answered, and how could you involve community members in owning this inquiry?
  10. What should you consider in terms of the effective use of self, particularly given your identification with the African-American community and your traumatic reaction to the killing? What should you look for in terms of secondary trauma, and how might you incorporate self- care into your practice?