What is the main goal of the Anti Defamation Leagues

The police are rethinking

Anti-racism needs to be trained. Police officers from all over Austria are made aware of discriminatory behavior in around 30 seminars. The concept for this is called AWOD - A World of Difference - and is carried out by the Anti-Defamation League.

How do you use AWOD against discrimination? Herbert Langthaler:

Discrimination is closely related to prejudice. AWOD is based on the idea that prejudices can only be combated if they are made consciously. Once the mechanisms of a prejudice are clear, it can be forgotten again. The aim is to set a process of awareness in motion that continues in everyday life.

Esther Maria Kürmayr:

The starting point in training is always dealing with one's own identity. The way to "you" leads through the "I". In the training there is space for your own positions that may not be addressed in everyday working life. New positions can be experienced through discussions and role plays.

Sounds abstract, what would an example be?

HL:We are working with a video that takes place in a Viennese noble district. Two Africans sit in a car. Two policemen who are just passing by in a patrol car are wondering what they're doing. They check their papers. On the basis of this short film, questions are discussed as to whether the behavior of these police officers is OK and whether their behavior is racist.

And why is that racist? Can't the police check people if they think it's necessary?

HL:She may only check if there is justified suspicion. If the suspicion is only based on the fact that someone is black - and there is no evidence of suspicion in the video - that is racist. So we come to the experiences of the seminar participants. But of course ADL is not just about racism, but about all other forms of discrimination, such as sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or anti-Semitism.

Do you have the impression that the police tend to be more racist than other sections of the population?

HL: At the beginning police officers only take part in the seminars voluntarily. It was relatively easy. Now it is increasingly the turn of those who are obliged to do so. You can tell. There are repeated statements beyond the tolerance limit, and a fruitful discussion is consciously counteracted. It is difficult for us to reach these people with our program. But the image that the police consist of nothing but racists
certainly not true. That’s a minority.
EMK:There are police officers who are highly reflective and others who cannot do that at all. With them one then encounters all the prejudices and forms of discrimination that also exist in parts of society. Of course, discrimination is particularly bad among the police because they represent and execute state authority. However, the conditions under which the police work do not exactly contribute to promoting individual empathy.

What do you mean?

EMK: The police officers are often pushed to the limit. The police as an institution is organized in a very hierarchical manner; many feel that they are not valued, experience little respect and even humiliating treatment. There is also a lot of overtime. The burn-out rate in the police force is not so high for nothing. How are people who are treated so badly themselves to be respectful towards others? It should come as no surprise that valves are sought in such a climate.
HL:In addition, the police must also execute laws that are racist. You have to deport people with other citizenship or carry out raids who are already racist by order - for example, if only people with dark skin color are to be checked. The fact that there are hardly any migrants in the police and only a few blacks does not necessarily promote understanding.

Aren't police officers also given psychological support?

HL: Only in the most extreme cases. Supervision - which has long been common practice in most areas where people are challenged emotionally - is not common practice in the police force.
EMK:In the seminars it also became clear that there is no culture to get help from outside. Many also do not dare to ask for internal help because it could have a negative impact on their careers. One is then quickly seen as someone “who can't do it”. Recently it was often said that the structures within the police were being worked on. I hope it really is.

Do you feel that you can change something with the seminars? Are racist police officers less racist in the end?

EMK: Some change their minds, some don't. But that's not really the point. It is much more important to initiate something. The evaluation sheets that we hand out after the seminar show that most of them rate the seminars as valuable. Success cannot of course be measured, but the long-term effect is there - even for many of those who do not show it in the group.
HL:I have the feeling that it usually brings something. If only because most of the participants signal a need for such seminars and want to hear an outside perspective. But it also benefits the trainers a lot. We are not free from prejudice. My view of the police has changed on some points.