We all deserve to live in communities where we feel safe. And true community safety includes feeling safe from violence by the state, which includes the police. Achieving this vision requires centering values that promote human dignity to prevent harm, ensure equal justice, and focus on restoration, not punishment.
Across the nation, however, local print and television news headlines are filled with reports of crime and violence. Without nuance or context, headlines describing crime trends add oxygen to narratives that threaten to stimy political momentum and public support for criminal justice reform. We’ve seen this before. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s latest investigative report on the roots of systemic racism in America, “Lights. Camera. Crime,” details the rise of “infotainment” television news that stoked racist stereotypes about BIPOC communities and clouded audiences’ perception of decreasing crime rates throughout the ’90s.
To help you message the moment, we’ve updated our Criminal Justice Reform Phrase Guide. Our people-first language grids provide quick reference points for how to avoid dehumanizing labels that foster stigma and fear. Be sure to check out tip #2 for VPSA guidance to pivot away from dominant narratives and toward an affirmative story about how systemic reforms to our criminal legal system provide a roadmap toward true community safety.
- Criminal Justice Reform Phrase Guide (The Opportunity Agenda)
- Beyond Policing (The Opportunity Agenda)
- People First: Drop the Harmful Labels From Criminal Justice Reporting (fwd.us)
- Words Matter (The Fortune Society Reentry Education Project)
- Ten Lessons for Talking About Criminal Justice Issues (The Opportunity Agenda)
- The Language Project (The Marshall Project)
- LIGHTS. CAMERA. CRIME. How a Philly-born brand of TV news harmed Black America (A More Perfect Union by The Philadelphia Inquirer)