Maynooth University project finds dialogue builds understanding between Gardaí and young black adults

Maynooth University School of Law and Criminology has published findings showing that facilitated dialogue can enable young Black adults and Gardaí to better understand each other’s experiences, perspectives,  and to build relationships and empathy.

The findings also suggest that dialogue could improve police-community relations, but requires substantial collaboration between communities, civil society and An Garda Síochána.

 The project, UBUNTU, funded by the Irish Research Council and led by Dr Ian Marder, School of Law and Criminology, found that the dialogue process facilitated a variety of conversations about trivial and serious subjects, such as policing and stereotyping.

It helped foster reflections on similarities and differences in ways that revealed the sources of contrasting viewpoints, and illuminated a common humanity. 

For example, the Gardaí better understood the impact of criminal records and searches on young Black adults’ lives and perspectives of police, while the young Black adults better understood Garda training, culture, rationales and powers. 

Additionally, the benefits of participation in dialogue extended beyond the project. Dr Marder reports that relationships which had been built continued after the dialogue, and that its humanising effect improved participants’ attitudes towards each other. 

He also found some evidence of reported behavioural changes in relation to proactively engaging the Black community and increasing non-adversarial contacts. 

He found a cascading effect where participants told others about their positive experiences.

Speaking to the importance of process within cross-community restorative justice practices of this type, Dr Marder notes: 

A core feature of the process was that participants were represented at every stage of the process and that the process was sensitive to participants’ needs. 

“The processes began with extensive trust-building work, before moving to more challenging discussions about diversity, difference and policing, and the use of restorative circles and talking pieces.”

He said that education and additional resources are required. 

“We found that a gap remained in participants’ understanding of the structural and institutional nature of the challenges ahead. Future dialogues may need to incorporate educational aspects which speak to the dynamics of the relationship between the Black community and the police. 

“Although this will require a substantial collaboration between communities, civil society and An Garda Síochána, the potential benefits of replicating this work considerably outweigh the costs.”

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