54th Mile Project Kicks Off in Selma, Alabama

September 28, 2023

On February 18, 1965, Alabama State Troopers fatally shot an unarmed African American civil rights activist, Jimmie Lee Jackson. A champion for equal voting rights, Jackson died protecting his mother, who was attacked by police during a demonstration in Marion, AL. In response to Jackson’s death, local civil rights leaders organized a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery – intending to take their cause directly to Governor George Wallace in the state’s capital.

Led by 25-year-old activist John Lewis, more than 600 demonstrators began the march through Selma’s downtown on March 7, 1965, but were blocked by state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. When the marchers refused to yield, the troopers brutally attacked demonstrators using tear gas, nightsticks, and other means of violence. Television cameras captured the confrontation, giving Americans a front-row seat to “Bloody Sunday.” Marchers, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were again blocked by police two days later as they crossed the bridge. It wasn’t until March 25, 1965, that Dr. King and the 25,000 marchers with him could complete their trek to the Alabama State Capitol Building and Governor Wallace’s office. These events spurred the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Fast forward more than five decades to the summer of 2020, when three police leaders – Chief Shon Barnes, Assistant Chief Tarrick McGuire, and Dr. Obed Magny – retraced the steps of the civil rights march, walking from Selma to Montgomery. Documenting their experience in a powerful 17-minute film, the trio used their journey to reflect on what it means to be Black men and law enforcement leaders in the United States. Titled the “54th Mile Policing Project,” the film provides a call for collective action to enhance police interactions and relationships with communities of color across the country.

Building upon the powerful message of the documentary, the National Policing Institute (NPI), with support from the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), is creating an innovative training program for law enforcement executives and launching a national initiative designed to strengthen connections between the police and communities of color.

In late August, NPI staff were joined by the 54th Mile Policing Project Co-Founders, project steering committee members, and BJA staff in Montgomery and Selma to kick off this work. This group discussed the mission and challenges for the national initiative and key considerations for the development and delivery of training for law enforcement executives.

The three co-founders are joined by a steering committee comprised of:

  • Dr. Cedric L. Alexander
  • Daryl V. Atkinson
  • Michael Collins
  • Kym Craven
  • Chief Kevin Davis
  • Warrick Dunn
  • Dr. Bernice A. King
  • Ganesha Martin
  • Chief Celeste Murphy
  • Kathleen O’Toole
  • Constance ‘Connie’ Rice
  • Sean Smoot
  • Leodis Strong

In the coming months, NPI will develop and pilot a training curriculum designed to assist police executives in engaging in difficult conversations on race and policing, enhancing community relationships, and promoting diversity in the policing profession. NPI will also engage the policing field and communities by sharing resources through an online platform and social media campaign.

National Policing Institute staff, 54th Mile Policing Project co-founders, committee members, and U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance Staff convened in Selma to officially launch the project.