Brainstorming Solutions to Police Harassment and Destruction of Black Men
We have a problem with the degradation of black men in this country. In response, we need help and action from all people, white people and otherwise. The average white person, absent actual blood on their hands, isn't any more complicit or responsible than me. In this spirit, we require an inclusive, encompassing message, not one that alienates, implicitly or explicitly, any particular group of people.In the aftermath of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I've been talking with friends and colleagues and scouring articles searching for practical solutions to the ongoing epidemic of police harassment and destruction of black men. Here's a collection of thoughts, advice and solutions from me and a variety of voices that I think are worth sharing:
1. At a basic, individual level, we each have to do some introspection. We must reflect on our own conscious and subconscious beliefs about and stereotypes of minorities, particularly black males. We have to identify, grapple with and conquer the prejudices that lay deep within us that tag black men as criminals, dangerous, violent and thugs. These subconscious biases manifest in the regular, normalized degradation and dehumanization of black men and sometimes their violent, unnecessary deaths.
2. I am uncomfortable with the prevalent, counter productive stereotyping of all white people as blind and naive to and complicit in the killing of black men by police officers. Themes of white people, as one unified body, having a unique responsibility to address this epidemic are troublesome. Humanizing black people and stripping away the stereotypes that plague them doesn't mean we should engage in divisive, demeaning stereotyping of white people or any other ethnic group. Just as black people aren't some collective block of thugs and criminals, white people aren't a homogeneous group of cunning, closet racists.
We have a problem with the degradation of black men in this country. In response, we need help and action from all people, white people and otherwise. The average white person, absent actual blood on their hands, isn't any more complicit or responsible than me. In this spirit, we require an inclusive, encompassing message, not one that alienates, implicitly or explicitly, any particular group of people.
3. As a public defender for the past 8 plus years, I've had countless interactions and contacts with police officers, mostly in the courtroom. I've watched them testify. I've cross-examined them. I've read their police reports. I've heard my clients' accounts about their interactions with them. I've listened to them interrogate the accused. I don't want to clump all police officers into one category or paint them with a broad brush. That said, I sense, through my experiences, that police departments are more likely to hire aggressive, confrontational people rather than compassionate, peaceful types. This practice of hiring the combative instead of the kind manifests in hostilities and distrust on the streets between police and the public, particularly people of color. Police contacts become stages for battle. A community member's tension, nervousness or anger triggers an already testy officer. Explosions, literal and figurative, ensue. Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Oscar Grant, dead.
We need a concerted shift in who we employ to serve and protect. We need a return to police as peace officers, not law enforcement officers. We must demand that police act as guardians, peacekeepers and protectors for the communities they serve. We should emphasize qualities like compassion, empathy and sensitivity in our hiring of police. We should recruit the cerebral, detail oriented, calm, rational, and composed to be our police officers. We don't need warriors with guns walking our streets; we need protective problem solvers.
4. No more, or at least less, “proactive” policing. We need to shift away from police contacts with civilians that are not necessary and do not promote public safety. These police contacts disparately target minorities and find their roots in implicit biases about people of color. No more hunting by police for “criminals” that haven't committed an obvious crime. No more “consensual encounters” with random Black or Latino male on the street to gather gang intelligence. No more stop and frisk. Less laws, less probable cause. No more pulling people over for riding without a bright enough bike light or for driving a car with something hanging from the rear-view mirror. No more ticketing to increase or raise revenues.
Instead, community service oriented policing. More fix it tickets. More reactive policing where officers respond to discrete crimes with distinct information looking for specific suspects. Less subjectivity, less room for implicit bias to rear its ugly head.
5. We need to bridge the divide between the populous and the police. We need to follow the examples of rappers Snoop Dogg and The Game and reintroduce ourselves, particularly communities of color, to police departments and reintroduce the police departments to the people they serve. We need to talk, to know one another, to see each other beneath and beyond our skin colors and uniforms. Police officers walking in a Black Lives Matter march. Black and brown community members attending a prayer vigil for a police officer lost in the line of duty. There should be no “us vs. them” or “fuck the police.” Instead, there should be “we,” glorious in our shared humanity.