- Substantial's been telling stories since early 2012. Here's one from the archives.
As I write these words there is a group of young black men and women outside of my apartment, in the parking lot commons area, arguing and fighting. I’m assuming the police are on their way as well. To add to that, I am still mentally processing what was to me a very offensive, although technically legal traffic stop that I experienced at the hands of my local sheriff’s department just one day ago. As a professional black male, 34 years old, with a criminal background and dreadlocked hair, I’d say I live at the center of this national debate of community policing in high crime areas.
This discussion heats the pot of societal and institutional racism and we all get a taste and feel the sting of a soup that we thought had long since cooled down. This issue is still very hot to the touch.
In all honesty, most of us in today’s society aren’t what I would call everyday walking racists. However, when placed in an intense situation, our reactions become forced and must then be based on limited information. Hasty reactions are never going to bear in them the deep thought and conversation that hindsight affords because hasty reactions often rely on biases, cliches, and stereotypes that are deeply embedded in our society’s culture. I can’t think of a job that bears in it as many intense situations and forced reactions than that of a law enforcement officer.
So, I find it very “of course” that if we examine our law enforcement and their forced reactions – even in all their bravery and service, we will find evidence of our own social prejudice and bias. Yes, those prejudices and biases are not just theirs, but ours.
In times of desperation, where we must act hastily, we are likely going to violate some laws of civility. It is then, in my opinion, that the job of our judicial system is to remove the perpetrator – not to punish him or her, but because removing the perpetrator allows the situation to be healed and repaired. You remove the perpetrator of the act so the people don’t seek their own justice, which will lead to anarchy. Once law enforcement removes the person, then leadership can step in and help guide the situation towards improved conditions. In cases where the perpetrator is a law enforcement officer, it is still in the interest of civility to remove that person, so that the situation can be corrected.
American justice has, in my opinion, been romanticized by stories of good versus evil, and we have looked on in school-girl-crush like daze, while our neighborhoods have become crime infested and militarized. The truth is that we have never answered the question of what to do in our inner-city neighborhoods, except send the police in. Now, I’d like to insert that we know this situation brings about intense encounters between community members and police.
If these encounters warrant such extensive officer training for how to behave during stops, doesn’t it warrant training for community members to know how to respond in these situations? Or should they just get it from home? In high crime areas, the police are often viewed as a government-issued rival gang – highly accredited barbarians, moving in the same fallacious spirit as the childhood playtime stories of Cops-and-Robbers and Cowboys-and-Indians.
This is just as much as the young male in the minority community has been commercialized and dramatized as a vile and threatening character, moving in the spirit of hip-hop gang gods who lack respect for life. Unfortunately, these cinematic themes are pre-scripted to clash. So, yes, if we are going to concentrate more police in our high crime areas, this does set the stage for a reality show with all the bad elements of a great fiction story, except the lives being lost are real. Unless we snap out of it, these age-old themes of war gods versus demons are going to leave us all dead in the streets.
I can’t agree with anyone who can look at these situations of torn police-community relations and defend it as right. These situations are wrong to a very high degree. As a society of civilized thinkers, our refusal to face our own ills is also our dare to live with the illness, thinking that it won’t spread and overtake us. This illness does threaten to overtake us as it overtook several of our US cities in the past year and in other not so distant times of social unrest.
Now, who’s to blame? I always say there is a huge difference between blame and responsibility. Blame is placing guilt after the fact, while responsibility is acceptance of the facts and the responsibility for what takes place from that point on. When everyone steps up to place blame on others for wrongs and then no one steps up to assume responsibility for change in the right direction, all we have done then is crucified a scapegoat, so that we don’t have to admit to our own social malfunctions and step up to put in the work.
I assert that our society would benefit from improvements in the criminal justice process and the community policing relationship. As a person who strives to affect positive change and advocate for reform, I serve on my city’s Police Community Relations Commission helping to facilitate healthy engagement between my community and its police department.
Striving to grow NC CIVIL into a leading civic organization, we are currently cultivating partnerships with our city police and a host of successful minority businessmen to serve as a community intervention segment that we believe is missing in the crime and punishment process for youth and young adult offenders. Where this process normally goes from arrest to jail, and then to judge, we hope to insert a point where our community element is brought in to help with local “focus deterrence” – an effort adopted by local city officials to offer counseling, guidance, and professional development alternatives to help young people get off of the prison track and into productive citizenship.
We understand that our local law enforcement officers are not social workers and don’t have time in their job scope to make nice with all the neighborhood guys. We also understand that our young people must earn their civic standing. We stand with our young men to support that development as well as with our law enforcement officers and our city at large being willing partners for positive change. Won’t you join us?
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