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Racial Profiling: The Opposite of Being Neighborly

Written by Nirav Tolia

We founded Nextdoor with the belief that when neighbors start talking, good things happen.

Four years and 77,000 neighborhoods later, we continue to be amazed by the enthusiasm and passion that neighbors have to make their local communities stronger and safer.

The vast majority of interactions on Nextdoor are positive, but recently Nextdoor has been at the center of a few press articles, including one in the East Bay Express, about a very difficult issue facing our neighborhoods today: racial profiling.

We are incredibly saddened that some neighbors have used Nextdoor in this way. Simply stated: we consider profiling of any kind to be unacceptable. Our product is about fostering healthy conversations amongst neighbors. We explicitly prohibit profiling in our Guidelines. Further, if we are notified that a member has violated these guidelines, we will take action and prohibit them from using Nextdoor.

We consider profiling of any kind to be unacceptable – and the opposite of being neighborly.

Moving forward, we are creating ways to remind members of these Guidelines when they post in the Crime and Safety section. We are investigating better techniques for keeping divisive discussions productive, and we are partnering with conflict resolution experts for training and product feedback. This is an important cause for us and we won’t let up.

Of course, one of the best ways to combat profiling is simply to get to know your neighbors. Racial profiling and other un-neighborly behaviors often arise from not having relationships with those around us. Many neighbors tell us that they are using Nextdoor as a vehicle to create the change they want to see in their local communities. Let’s use our common bonds to come together, engage in constructive dialogue, and end profiling once and for all.

Sincerely,

Nirav Tolia
Co-Founder and CEO
niravtolia@nextdoor.com

Updated January 26, 2016

Since the publishing of this blog post, the following changes are being piloted on Nextdoor in the Bay Area:
  • Messages that are discriminatory or contain racial profiling are explicitly prohibited by our Member Guidelines.
  • Members can now flag a post for containing racial profiling, which is escalated immediately to Leads and our Neighborhood Operations team.
  • A warning screen now appears prior to a member posting in the Crime and Safety category or sending out an Urgent Alert containing best practices on sharing information on criminal activity with neighbors.
We will continue to educate our members on how to keep all conversations on Nextdoor neighborly and productive.

8 Comments

  • There’s a difference between profiling (e.g. assuming a person is a certain type/thug/criminal, etc. just because he/she belongs to a certain race or ethnic group) and sharing facts of an event with one’s neighbors. In other words, I appreciate it when my neighbors take the time to share anything good or bad that happened to them. First hand account of facts isn’t hearsay, and it isn’t profiling either.

    If the reader has innate or underlying prejudices when he or she hears of certain things, that’s his/her personal problem, it shouldn’t prevent or discourage others from sharing the facts of anything that happened to them.

    Knowledge is power, and I want my neighbors to share what facts happened to them or their family/love ones.

    • Curt, alerting people to the presence of people of color in your neighborhood is racist and it’s racial profiling. Doing so as “personal experience” (e.g. “a black woman I didn’t know knocked on my door very loudly”) does not change that fact.

      • Marga,

        Of course I’ve seen many posts on Nextdoor that are not post-criminal conduct. Whatever folks have against people reporting strangers peering into windows/home or loitering etc., they are free to do that and you’re free to be against it.

        What I’m more concerned about and what I’ve seen are actual post-criminal conduct posts on here that includes factual account of the thugs – race, gender, etc. etc., and still, some folks try to discourage such post crime factual posts by alleging it’s profiling and insist such report ought to be ‘white-washed’ of any facts about race etc.

        Spouse and I were robbed at gun point walking up Orange back from Wholefoods at about 715PM Sep 2014 by two thugs with hoodies on, one black and one dark Hispanic. That’s NOT profiling and I appreciate it when others include such facts when they share what happens to them.

        • I believe what Nirav (and Marga) are worried about is what happens after you post a report of criminal activity with ZERO information besides race.

          If the two “thugs” you encountered were white, people are not going to call the cops about every white person they pass. However, the reality is that when a minority is accused with no more information than their race and gender, the cops WILL be called on them. The article from the East Bay Express talks more about the impact this has on people of color who live in these neighborhoods and are now seen as threatening for merely walking around: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/racial-profiling-via-nextdoorcom/Content?oid=4526919

          If you wish to report info about a crime, call the cops. If you wish to tell your neighbors about a dangerous person to avoid, give an exact description (ie. a man in his late 60s with yellow sneakers carrying a baseball bat), not just a person’s race.

  • When
    Five days ago Sid Staurt from Precita Park
    posted a ND link to the original EBEx article under the title of
    “Something to be aware of”

    I responded with the post pasted here below. (Basically it states that the EBEx article is poorly researched and written, and that ND is a tool; responsibility for its content rests with Leads and users.)

    I wrote:
    “Nextdoor is Moderated. That means that the moderator is able to remove – or allow to remain – inappropriate and flagged comments
    “Each ND neighborhood has at least one “Lead” or Moderator. In most instances the Lead has a pretty good idea of his responsibilities, however every once in a while he has little idea of what those are. Even though they are spelled out, it’s up to the Lead to be aware of them and abide by them.

    “I can vouch for one (only one!) instance when I thought that a thread had gone too far. I asked the Lead in that neighborhood to please close the thread or remove the most offensive comments. He responded that he thought that free expression should be encouraged. In the end, ND itself closed the thread.

    “As well, each ND participant is supposed to register with his own real name. This makes it difficult for folks to make outrageous statements under pseudonyms as on other venues.
    “If nasty comments have been allowed to remain after you have flagged them, I would send a PM directly to your Leads respectfully asking them why.

    “Please note that the EBExpress article, though long, has little clear first-hand info. Most interviewed folks have reported items they have seen. There are no actual website screenshots included. As well, even though the title states it is about Nextdoor, the author includes EBExpress, Glenfriends, Yahoo, Google, Facebook groups, and in doing so muddies the water even further.”

  • From Civilrights.org
    “‘Racial profiling’ refers to the targeting of particular individuals by law enforcement authorities based not on their behavior, but rather their personal characteristics …. race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion—and means the impermissible use by law enforcement authorities of these personal characteristics, to any degree, in determining which individuals to stop, detain, question, or subject to other law enforcement activities.”

    The article then adds an important qualification:
    “As the qualifying term ‘impermissible use’ indicates, the definition does not prohibit reliance by law enforcement authorities on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion in all circumstances. Rather, it is aimed at law enforcement activities that are premised on the erroneous assumption that individuals of a particular race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion are more likely to engage in certain types of unlawful conduct than are individuals of another race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. Thus, it is not racial profiling when law enforcement authorities rely on these personal characteristics as part of a subject description or in connection with an investigation if there is reliable information that links a person of a particular race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion to a specific incident, scheme, or organization.”

    As noted by many sources racial profiling by government (and especially government law enforcement) offends Constitutional guarantees of equal protection of the law and freedom from illegal search and seizure.

    However as alluded to in the definition above, and as emphasized in American Bar Association materials, the 4th Amendment applies only to government searches and seizures. It doesn’t provide protection of a person’s privacy from other citizens. And expectations of privacy are diminished when a person is in public. The American Society of Media Photographers advises that their interpretation of the law is that you can photograph individuals in public places, unless you do it to such an extent and in such a way that it constitutes harassment or a nuisance. City streets and sidewalks adjoining your home are public places or are your property (depending on the location) and parking strips between the sidewalk and the street adjoining your house are probably your property (to which you have granted an easement to the city/municipality — typically for utility access). City and state parks are also generally public places.

    All of that being said people should aspire not to engage in unfair racial stereotyping or prejudicial behavior and I respect the right of Nextdoor to make that a condition of use of their website. However merely stating that “racial profiling” is not permitted doesn’t provide users with enough guidance on how the site use policy applies to the specific scenario where neighbors want to spread information about observable behaviors that might be link a person to a crime (or violations of non-criminal ordinances) or that could be useful in preventing the same in their neighborhood. It can’t be reasonably left to various moderators individual interpretations.

    In my view it is not racially discriminatory behavior that would implicate or promote racial profiling by law enforcement for a Nextdoor site user to post a warning that a person is engaging in observed specific behaviors that people would reasonably consider to be suspicious — like pulling on car door handles, opening or looking through a vehicle known to belong to a neighbor, or leaving the street or sidewalk to look over a fence into a person’s back yard or into the windows of a home. Also in the same category might be an unknown person who is approaching children.

    If I saw any such things I would want to alert neighbors.

    Of course posting something on Nextdoor is only one measure of several that might be appropriate. For a close neighbor I would likely have a phone number and would call to alert them. And of course where there is behavior objectively suspicious for a crime I think it is incumbent on the person making the observation to report that to law enforcement. But reporting such behavior will not always (or even often) result in a quick police response, investigation of the facts, or a resolution. Therefore it is still important to spread the word so that other neighbors will be alert to secure possessions and call the police in the event they see similar activity.

    I think a key piece of advice that the site should provide is that if you are going to spread information about suspicious behavior in the neighborhood the behavior (examples such as those given above) and the individual must be described in detail — factors such as skin color or tone, gender, age, skin tone, hair color, length (and style if distinctive), eye color (where noted), facial hair, tattoos, clothing. If you can’t provide more than a vague description of a “suspicious [black/white/asian/muslim/latino] person walking around” then you are not allowed to post it on Nextdoor because doing so could contribute to racial profiling. Going back to the information above, “personal characteristics” can be considered lawfully by law enforcement “as part of a subject description or in connection with an investigation if there is reliable information that links a person of a particular race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion to a specific incident, scheme, or organization.”

  • Thanks, Nirav; we’re off to a good start on this.

    But ONLY a good start. There’s a LOT of misunderstanding of what is racial profiling, and what is helpful information for people to protect themselves.

    Some notated examples (fictional, of course; no need to use the wrong forum for individuals’ misunderstandings) would be a BIG next step.

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