How nonprofit Raheem champions social justice by enabling an easy and safe way to report police violence
Headquartered in Oakland, Calif. and taking reports from across the country, Raheem provides a digital space where anyone can create a publicly accessible record of police violence.
Published January 8, 2021
Last updated September 21, 2021
Linda, an entrepreneur and mother of 6, was physically attacked. Ne’Jahra, a high school student, was disrespected. Trevor, an activist, was wrongly accused.
What do they have in common? They’re Black. And their perpetrators were police officers.
Brandon D. Anderson, a sociologist and entrepreneur, is also no stranger to police violence. He lost his long-time life partner during a routine traffic stop 12 years ago. The officer had a history of being physically abusive, particularly during traffic stops, but he was never reported.
The fact that this life-shattering experience is not uncommon for Black Americans led Anderson to found Raheem, an independent service for reporting police in the U.S.
Headquartered in Oakland, Calif. and available across the country, Raheem helps people report encounters with police, connects them with resources for healing and justice, and advances policies that shrink the role of police and invest in long term solutions that respond to conflict with care.
Raheem recently wrapped up a project with the Oakland Police Commission to help rewrite the policy governing the use of force by police. The Commission—staffed by volunteers from the community, with the power to hire and fire the chief of police—contracted Raheem to get community input so people on the receiving end of police violence could help inform policies to reduce it.
An overwhelming need for action
Despite the fact that being killed by police is the sixth leading cause of death for young Black men in America, fewer than 5% of people report negative incidents, so officers are not held accountable and policy doesn’t reflect the experiences of the communities most affected by police violence.
In just a few years, Raheem has helped more than 2,600 people report police, from profiling and harassment to physical violence. Around 300 of those reports name specific officers, which likely tie them to cases of police misconduct. “That’s data that’s starting to help shine a light on the problem,” said Nadav Savio, Head of Product at Raheem.
Raheem helps people report encounters with police, connects them with resources for healing and justice, and advances policies that shrink the role of police and invest in long term solutions that respond to conflict with care
Raheem connects those who make reports to free legal services in their area and helps them make formal complaints and find out which local official to contact in the location where the incident took place. “These are human beings going through these experiences and are in need of some kind of healing, unburdening, justice, and change.”
The non-profit organization is also working to address the institutional and systemic issues that are at the root of police violence, including expanding its definition.
“Having property taken or being harassed to the point that you’re uncomfortable driving down the street is violent. Those things really matter and are also the situations where people are less likely to make a formal complaint,” said Savio.
“Our work with community partners helps individuals while building a data set that leads to better policies.”
Building for the future with Zendesk
“For a non-profit organization, efficiency is everything. That’s one thing that Zendesk [initially] helped streamline within Raheem,” said Savio.
By August 2020, they knew they wanted to extend the model and build a network using a more conversational and embeddable version of their reporting tool. With this technology, they can build for the future. People can learn about Raheem on other websites and report from anywhere, including their mobile phones. Sunshine Conversations is the tool that’s making that happen.
“These are human beings going through these experiences and are in need of some kind of healing, unburdening, justice, and change.” — Nadav Savio
Today, Sunshine Conversations allows Raheem to donate their bot and tech to any organization looking to more easily facilitate the reporting of police interactions with citizens. The Raheem chatbot can sit on the website of any organization to allow easy reporting. It’s straightforward for even the non-tech savvy to install.
Meanwhile, back at Raheem, the Zendesk Support Suite allows for omni-channel conversations that enable staffers to pick up on a customer contact from any channel, and respond to them with resources for justice and healing.
The path forward for Raheem includes strengthening connections between the people who report police violence and the organizations that can provide valuable next steps. “We’re building out our database of resources we can offer people but also working with organizations to have their services and expertise best integrated into the reporting process,” said Savio.
Making it possible to report police from anywhere, across channels, is essential to understanding the full range of experiences people have with policing. “Aside from [the bot] being embedded in lots of places, the multi-channel nature of a conversational approach means, for example, you can DM @raheem on Twitter and it connects to our bot and you can do the whole reporting process right there, or on Facebook Messenger, or via SMS.
“This is a really interesting way to extend access and ideally bring the opportunity to tell that story to wherever people are, as opposed to getting them to come to us.”
The Raheem and Zendesk Tech for Good partnership proves that when technology and ingenuity come together, social action can be advanced in ways that hadn’t previously been imagined.