Redefining Public Safety through Night Out for Safety and Liberation

By Zaineb Mohammed and Zachary Norris, Ella Baker Center

What does community safety mean?

This is a question the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights is working to answer in coalition with partner organizations across the country through Night Out for Safety and Liberation (NOSL).

For too long, the conversation about public safety has been defined by law enforcement and driven by fear, crime, and punishment. Every August, cities across the country hold events as part of National Night Out, which promotes “police-community” partnerships as the route to safer communities. Through NOSL, the Ella Baker Center works with groups to reclaim and reimagine what public safety means to our communities and start a new discussion that focuses on how we can build equity, power, and opportunity together.

NOSL began as a joint initiative between the Ella Baker Center and Justice for Families in 2013, and has since grown to include dozens of organizations, working collaboratively to spread the narrative that safety is about communities that have access to affordable healthcare, housing, food, education, safe and working infrastructure, and more.

We appreciate the emphasis that the Houston/Marshall Plan puts on providing opportunities for groups to connect and coordinate, as it has been an essential component of our strategy to effectively change the conversation around public safety.

To be successful we know we must work in coalition with groups doing work on racial, economic, gender, and criminal justice to create an inclusive and meaningful vision of community safety.

Last year, using the hashtag #SafetyIs, we encouraged people to share what safety meant to them. Because of the broad range of organizations participating in NOSL, many perspectives were shared on what safety meant, including a living wage, safe work spaces, mental health treatment, decriminalization of people of color, stopping street harassment, and an end to the school-to-prison pipeline.

The mission of NOSL to change the conversation about public safety continues in 2016, as we work with organizations to create more artwork, host more events, and connect a new vision of public safety with on the ground work happening in local campaigns.

By working in partnership with many organizations, we are able to co-create a vision for public safety that many people can identify with and see themselves in.