Google leads the way in the fight against US police force racial bias

Google has announced its latest philanthropic endeavour – bestowing $11.5 million (£9 million) in grants to groups aiming to tackle the US police force’s treatment of racial minorities.

Justin Steele, principal of Google.org, the charitable subsidiary of Google, noted that: “There is significant ambiguity regarding the extent of racial bias in policing and criminal sentencing. We must find ways to improve the accessibility and usefulness of information.” In keeping with this statement, Google is reaching out to organisations that work with data to zone in on problems and provide apt solutions.

One notable recipient of Google’s aid will be the Center for Policing Equity, which will receive a substantial $5 million (£4 million) grant, and, in a double-pronged effort from the internet giant, will be loaned a slew of Google engineers to help streamline and improve its database. The Center is a national research hub that monitors policing across the country, aiming to scrutinise disparities in law-enforcement actions in a drive towards nationwide equality.

USA Today reported the Center’s president and co-founder Philip Goff saying: “It’s hard to measure justice. In policing, data are so sparse and they are not shared broadly. [We] attempt to measure justice so that people who want to do the right thing can use that metric to lay out a GPS for getting where we are trying to go. That’s really what we see Google as being a key partner in helping us do.”

Other bodies receiving aid include Measures for Justice, which Google is giving $1.5 million (£1.2 million) to launch an online space where Californian residents can share their experiences with the local justice system, sharing data about their race, age, gender and criminal history. JustLeadershipUSA will get $650,000 (£500,000) to rehabilitate prisoners, training them to instigate reform efforts on both local and national levels.

It’s easy to cynically dismiss the move as a PR bolster for Google, particularly given the mounting pressure on Silicon Valley to redress its workforce imbalance – infamously dominated by young, white males, most of whom tote a Stanford degree. But with Justin Steele at the helm of the initiative, the pledge of cold, hard (but eminently useful) cash is imbued with a human face. Steele’s grandfather was a Seattle police officer and his father a county detention chief in Snohomish, Washington. During an internship at the NAACP, he witnessed the shooting of a black man by a white police official, leading – among other things – for him to speak about the need for responsible, unbiased policing.

And while £9 million might be a drop in the ocean for Google, it’s a meaningful effort that should be lauded. Here’s hoping Silicon Valley takes heed.

Image: Neon Tommy used under Creative Commons

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