Akil Patterson is a firm believer in the power of sports to lead and enact social change. That is one of the reasons why his proposal to combat the epidemic of police brutality against Black people involves working directly with Black combat athletes, and altering the way in which police train to do their jobs.
On this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki,” Patterson, who once ranked as the No. 5 Greco Roman Wrestler in the U.S., talked about his idea to work with the National Governing Bodies of Wrestling, Judo and Ju-Jitsu and contract Black athletes to create law enforcement training programs. Currently, police staff all training programs themselves. Patterson’s plan would diversify how law enforcement officials are trained, and expose them to outside perspectives on the role of police.
“If athletics can have a role in this way and helping our country heal, it should come from athletes who understand not only how combat works — physical hand-to-hand combat — but also what it feels like to be on the other side,” Patterson said. “To feel fear, to have a representation that is a different mindset.”
Patterson, a former collegiate football player, first came out in an Outsports story in 2010. He’s devoted himself to public service over the last several years, working as Athlete Ally’s Youth Programs director and a community advocate in Baltimore. This year, he ran for the Baltimore City Council, where he would’ve been the first openly LGBT person to serve. He wound up finishing third in his race last week, though the citywide elections were plagued with errors in results reporting and other issues. Six days later, the mayoral race is still undecided.
With protests roiling over police brutality against Black people in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, Patterson says now is the time to work on bold proposals. The Defund Police movement has gained unprecedented support, with several major cities, including Los Angeles and New York City, vowing to cut police spending and reallocate funds towards social services and programs. The Minneapolis City Council pledged Sunday to dismantle the city’s troubled Police Department.
In addition to working with sports governing bodies, Patterson wants to enlist the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. Over the ensuing months, he will try to speak with congressional leaders, some of whom are already championing ideas to reform how police are held accountable. Sen. Cory Booker, for example, wants to end qualified immunity for police officers, which currently shields them from being sued for actions that don’t clearly violate a constitutional right.
Patterson also wants police officers to be required to at least earn associate’s degrees, because education is another way to combat prejudice.
“When I was 18, I thought I knew the world,” Patterson said. “At 36 now, I’m like, ‘I don’t know anything.’ That’s what you learn. That’s what college is for. That’s why I don’t believe police officers should be high school graduates.”
Spurned to action by the nationwide outrage over Floyd’s killing, Patterson says he’s already working the phones, trying to find ways to advance his proposal. As a Black man in America, he knows it is a matter of life and death.
“The talk in my home versus the talk in your home was different,” Patterson said. “The talk in my home was how not to be killed, and how not to be beaten by police. How not to wear jeans that sag low; how not to wear certain clothes; how to speak the right way. When people say, ‘Oh, you’re so well-spoken.’ That’s because my parents didn’t want me speaking ebonics. They didn’t want me to speak slang like my cousins were in New York. My parents raised me so I wouldn’t get hurt.”
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