Reclaiming Safety: Participatory Research, Community Perspectives, and Possibilities for Transformation


This paper offers the first known interdisciplinary, community-based participatory research study to focus directly on two questions that have drawn increased attention in the wake of global protests over racialized police violence: 1) What is the definition of safety? and 2) How can safety be made equally accessible to all? The study is part of a larger project that was co-designed by community members and academic researchers. The project aimed to strengthen local justice reform efforts by adding new data literacy skills to existing community-organizing capacity among Black residents of the Cincinnati, Ohio metropolitan area. Community-led roundtable discussions offered community members (n=12) an opportunity to answer the two research questions. Exploratory qualitative analysis resulted in four emergent themes through which participants: (1) defined safety primarily as freedom from harm and enjoyment of close, supportive relationships; (2) identified poverty and racism as key barriers to creating safety; (3) described complex, overlapping, and sometimes conflicting roles and responsibilities for creating safety; and (4) expressed strong ambivalence over whether and how police contribute to safety. Applying Monica Bell’s legal estrangement theory, the team examined those themes for evidence of four modalities through which marginalized communities engage with criminal legal systems (subordination, consumption, resistance, and transformation). The data reflected minimal subordination and resistance, relatively high levels of consumption, and mixed perspectives on system transformation. Further implications for theory, policy, and future research are discussed


Stanford University Stanford, California
  • Lauren Johnson, Cinnamon Pelly, Ebony L. Ruhland, Simone Bess, Jacinda K. Dariotis, & Janet Moore, Reclaiming Safety: Participatory Research, Community Perspectives, and Possibilities for Transformation, 18 Stan. J. C.R. & C.L. 191 (2022).
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