Last Saturday, California State University, Sacramento hosted the 21st Annual Multicultural Education Conference, with venues and lectures on a wide range of topics. One subject in particular caught the attention of Shelby Moffatt, lecturer at Sacramento State’s Department of Health and Human Services. For Moffatt, having more minorities and “at-risk” youth in the Criminal Justice field is an important step in preventing police brutality against men and women of color, and helping students achieve their goals.

Moffatt, a retired Sacramento police officer, wanted to take a closer look at why black, Hispanic, and other minority students are not pursuing careers in criminal justice nearly as much as their white classmates.

“They’ll say all the time, ‘We’re doing our best,’ but they’re still not hiring them,” the lecturer said, referring to at-risk youth who are overlooked by law enforcement recruiters.

His findings revealed that there is a nationwide disparity among racial and ethnic minorities when it comes to poverty, education, and incarceration. Moffatt decided to delve deeper into the root causes and finer details into why this is the case.

One example discussed in the lecture is the fact that in many high schools, criminal justice courses are counted as electives, which means that there is often a lack of engagement among teachers and students, and such courses aren’t taken that seriously.

The retired officer also pointed out the need for at-risk youth to have a mentor in their life, whoever that may be.

“They need someone to guide them,” Moffatt told the audience. “…no matter what it is, they still need someone to guide them toward whatever goal, and sometimes, you as a young person may not know what that goal is.”

Later, Moffatt discussed the prevalence of biases in day-to-day life, biases many might not even be aware of.

“How many of you are racist? Raise your hand,” he said jokingly to the audience, demonstrating that, without accusing anyone in the audience, often people who wouldn’t consider themselves to be racists still carry biases with them.

Going further, he also touched on the apathy that many exhibit in response to acts of prejudice. He asked the audience to think about a time when they may have witnessed an injustice, and to think about whether they stepped in or turned a blind eye. In Moffatt’s view, indifference to racism, sexism, etc. is morally equivalent to the prejudice itself.

According to Moffatt, institutional biases like nepotism, politics are also to blame for the state of the law enforcement profession in the US. The odds of making a career out criminal justice depend more on “who you know, not what you know,” based on Moffatt’s findings.

Conversations like this happened all across Sacramento State’s University Union in Saturday, all with the goal of illuminating racial and cultural issues that may be overlooked by those not personally affected.  But for Shelby Moffatt, diversity in the criminal justice field can help the whole community, and more needs to be done at every level to make that happen.

“If we were only choosing the ‘best and the brightest’… you wouldn’t see officers raping women, beating people, shooting, assaulting, etc., he explained. “If these are the best then we’re in trouble.”

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