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Women In Blue: SFJ’s Watch-N-Discuss Series

Women In Blue: SFJ’s Watch-N-Discuss Series

Women In Blue offers an insight into the Minneapolis Police Department, recounting a troubled and lengthy history of racism and police misconduct occurring long before the killing of George Floyd by one of their officers in May 2020. With the national conversations around police reform still resonating loudly around the country, the film reveals reform limitations and highlights the women fighting from within the department for gender equity. Janée Harteau, the department's first openly gay female police chief, and three women in her department attempt to redefine the meaning “protect and serve.” The film follows Harteau’s arduous battle to reform her department and restore trust within the community as the city of Minneapolis continues to struggle with its troubled history of racism and police misconduct. Harteau’s efforts involved dismantling the department of corrupt police officers, recruiting, retraining, and diversifying the ranks with an emphasis on Black women, while promoting them into leadership positions. Unfortunately, due to the manner in which she handled a string of high-profile police shootings, Harteau was forced to resign.

View recording of the session


Deirdre Fishel, Writer/Director/Producer

Deirdre Fishel's films have premiered in competition at Sundance and SXSW and been broadcast in 35 countries worldwide. Her documentary Still Doing It: The Intimate Lives of Women Over 65 was also expanded into a book co-written with producer Diana Holtzberg. Deirdre was a directing fellow at the American Film Institute and is an Associate Professor of Media & Communication Arts at The City College of New York.

Ganesha M. Martin, Esq., Director, Impact Campaign

Ganesha Martin has served in several positions in Baltimore City government. Most recently she was the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ). She has overseen collaborative criminal justice efforts that included the Baltimore Police Department, Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney’s Office, the judiciary and several community groups. Martin is a lawyer who led the federal court-ordered Consent Decree reform efforts at the Baltimore Police Department from 2015 –2018.

Shanette Hall, Police Officer, St Louis County Police Department

Shanette Hall is a board member of The Ethical Society of Police which was formed in 1972 to fight race-based discrimination within the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Their leaders are advocates for racial and gender equity in the St. Louis and St. Louis County Police Departments.

Mirelda Sanchez Tokarczyk, Police Officer, Pentwater Border Police Department

Mirelda Sanchez Tokarczyk has served as a police officer for Pentwater and Roosevelt Park and as a case manager and surveillance officer for the 60th District Sobriety Court. She also worked court security for the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department, and road patrol for the Mason County Sheriff’s Department. She has been a teller for Shoreline Federal Credit Union, an Ottawa County Sheriff cadet, and a Roosevelt Park City Council member from 2016-19.

Moderated by: Iris Richardson, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Penn State University Police and Public Safety

The Forum

The presentation began with introductions followed by the Moderator, Iris Richardson, asking the Panel, “What did they want people to take away from this film?” Deirdre Fishel explained how she nurtured young filmmakers and how all of her films are about trying to create social change. She also explained how upset she became regarding police brutality and especially the killing of Eric Garner, which she stated happened near the filming of her last film and, “I started reading about women and how they could bring a different approach to public safety and that made me really want to explore. What could women bring up? It seemed like that was not something in people’s consciousness.” This unfortunate event prompted her to research what different approaches women would bring to public safety. After spending three years with the Minneapolis Police Department, its officers, and a department dealing with police brutality and excessive use of force, she hoped the take away would encourage people to “reimagine public safety and really think about what women and particularly Black women and women of color can bring with their numbers being as low as 12%. I also hope that the film brought up how we need systemic change and I hope that people will take away both the need for systemic change and how complex change can really be, it’s imperative because lives are at stake.”

There were a number of issues discussed during the presentation with a concentration on police reform, the lack of women in command ranks, relationships between the police and Black and Brown communities, and the media shootings of unarmed Black men around the country. Discrimination towards female police officers and the lack of respect shown to them, i.e., it was noted that the City of Baltimore’s Police Department had regulations against women wearing their hair in braids, no earrings were allowed and no painted fingernails. After Shirley Briscoe, the first African American female became Deputy Commissioner of the City of Baltimore’s Police Department the support group “Impact Campaign” was formed to support discriminatory issues for women in law enforcement and in general. In fact, a number of organizations were formed, i.e., The Bureau of Community Engagement, and The Ethical Society of Police, specifically to fight race-based discrimination in police departments.

Education and training surrounding cultural competency and diversity is not being addressed in police academies. The academies are still teaching “ATM” ask, tell, make!” There are officers that do not understand how to explain the meaning of “reasonable suspicion” or “probable cause.” One panel member stated, “We are giving police officers all the tools to take away somebody’s life, but we are not teaching them how to understand and relate to the different ethnic backgrounds and cultures that exist in the communities they serve.” The training of police officers is different across the country and hopefully, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 will standardize training along with the mandated training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.

When addressing the lack of women in policing, a panel member brought to our attention the NYU Law School’s 30 by 30 Initiative which is an extension of NYU’s Policing Project. The initiative is to promote the advancement of women in policing, “By 2030, 30% of sworn law enforcement will be female which is currently 12%. The research is clear and the need is urgent. According to the 30x30 Initiative, some research suggests that female officers are: less likely to use force/excessive force; less likely to fire duty weapons; better able to engage with diverse cultural groups; less likely to have citizen complaints filed against them.” This initiative has signed a pledge to demonstrate to the field and the public that policing will be addressing the gender disparities that have been in existence since the onset of the profession. In her closing remarks, Ms. Fishel stated, “I think a lot of police officers are happy with the way it’s been, and now they are beginning to get a little uncomfortable because they are saying there is a rising tide to hopefully finally create some justice within that profession.”

Lastly, here's the message to America from our panelist

Deirdre Fishel’s Message to America:

“When I was making the film that Sergeant White was so unique and then meeting other women officers from around the country, I think it's great that we have a protest movement that's pushing and crying out for change, but I think we also have to look and see that all officers are not made of the same cloth and to really support those officers so that those officer’s voices can feel that support and that those women, in particular, can speak out and that we see it not as ‘Us vs. Them’, but that they are people both in the system and outside the system, who are demanding change. I still really believe that women could make a difference, but not without some other major systemic changes. I think there is systemic racism and sexism. We need to think about what we want police officers to do, and who the people are that can actually do that.”

After watching Deirdre’s message, what did you take away from it?

Ganesha Martin's Message to America:

“I would say to America to start with yourself! We are very quick to point the finger at what somebody else didn't do and what they're doing wrong, but you wouldn't be here for a woman. And quite frankly, we have an issue across America with respecting and revering our women, and so I would say, start with yourself and ask what can I do because sometimes we're always looking for that big thing. What movement or what 501c3 can I start? I promise that if you look at who you are and your sphere of influence, there is something that you can do to support women in general specifically women in law enforcement and I would urge you to do that now and do not wait because I believe that the murder of George Floyd opened a door that is still open, but will not stay open unless there are people standing in the gap to keep it that way, so do not wait. The time is now for us to move forward.”

After watching Ganesha’s message, what did you take away from it?

Shanette Hall’s Message to America:

“The voice and women are important, so women know your voice is important, use it. If we're not telling the person behind us our struggles, our trials and tribulations we've had to deal with how do we know that they're not gonna stumble harder than we did. Your voice is extremely important, but you have to use it and never think it's not important. Never think you have to have ranked just to have a voice; never think that you have to be in a certain room to have a voice; never put any limitations on your voice because when you use it appropriately, if you're loud, or if you're subtle when you have it, I promise you somebody will hear it, so use it.”

After watching Shanette’s message, what did you take away from it?

Mirelda Sanchez Tokarczyk Message to America:

“I guess I would like to say to everybody in America, not all police officers are bad, but there are bad police officers and they need to be fired. There are good cops; they need to be supported and the police need to be accountable. They need to be accountable to each other and to the public, we all know what's right and wrong. I also want to say what Ruth Bader Ginsburg would say, ‘We should not be held back from pursuing our full talents from contributing what we could contribute to society because we fit in a certain mold because we belong to a group that historically has been the object of discrimination.’ So, I want to reiterate with the other women, use your voice and keep using your voice because we're strong, we're strong women.”

After watching Mirelda’s message, what did you take away from it?

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About the author

Elinor A. McNeel, currently retired after a lengthy career as a Legal Assistant, decided to return to school and is presently attending Penn State University completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Law and Society. She enjoys reading a good book, writing, editing, and anything involving technology. Elinor is a published author of Understanding Rhetoric: A Student Guide with Samples and Analysis. Originally from Chicago, Ill, her family relocated to Los Angeles, California where she presently resides.

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