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Chief Program Officer Lisa O'Connor on Jazmine Headley: We Need More Compassion for People of Color

Chief Program Officer Lisa O'Connor on Jazmine Headley: We Need More Compassion for People of Color

By Lisa O’Connor
December 14, 2018

Being black and poor isn’t a crime. But after watching the video of Jazmine Headley’s child being ripped from her arms and reading the initial reports that detailed her open warrant in an unrelated case, it sure felt that way. Had Jazmine Headley been white, that video wouldn’t have looked the same.

As a mother I can only imagine the fear and anger, Jazmine Headley experienced in the moments when she was surrounded by officers and having her son pried from her arms.

I have spent my career working to provide services to New Yorkers. As I watched the video, I kept thinking about how the interaction was rooted in the wrong place. I imagined how differently that video might have unfolded if Ms. Headley had been offered not anger, fear or frustration, but a little compassion.

What if someone had called for a folding chair instead of calling a police officer?

We live in a country where being a person of color can make it hard to find compassion. Your neighbors are more likely to call the police and you are more likely to be punished for being poor. You are more likely to be judged as a bad mother, even if all you are trying to do is access the services that allow you to work so you can support your child.

As the video made painfully clear, compassion should be a standard for all organizations designed to help people.

That’s why, at Safe Horizon, through our anti-racism work, we are striving for more compassion for people of color. We can’t do that if we don’t address the many ways that racism causes our clients to feel hurt and denigrated.

The first step to compassion is acknowledging our shared humanity.

We may ask ourselves, “What life experience has this mother of color had that impact the way she navigates the world and safety?”

Am I making assumptions about this young woman of color and the trauma she may have experienced?

Would I interpret these trauma reactions as anger or aggression if this person in front of me were white?

When we are asking hard questions we can acknowledge when we fail and when we need to do better. Compassion requires action. Simply feeling outrage that Ms. Headley had to sit on the floor would not have changed the outcome.

We still have work to do. My hope is that others will take the unnecessary confrontation with Ms. Headly as an opportunity to join us in that work: ask ourselves the hard questions about how we each show up every day in whatever role we play in the world.

  • Dr. Lisa O'Connor, Chief Program Officer