Growing up a child of the 80s and 90s, the concept of crime was not new to me. As a product of a middle class family ( which seems to be now almost non-existent), I always lived in a neighborhood with working families. Within those same communities, there were the neighborhood drug dealers, petty criminals and sexual deviants roaming free in many parts of the city. Drug addicts were everywhere prominently displaying their needled ridden arms. Then came the massive clean up and quality of life took focus. Now, beginning with 2019 and colliding with both the ridiculous NYS bail reform bill effective January of 2020 and the pandemic, my city along with so many others has free fallen back into crime, reckless shootings, and the abolishment of most aspects that measure a good quality of life.
The challenge has been for many years how to balance effective policing with combating racial profiling and racial injustice. If stop and frisk were used, why were people of color stopped more than non-minorities? If a person of color was convicted of drug possession, why were they jailed and not offered drug treatment program options like some non-minorities? In addition, for our youthful offenders, why have we as a society not poured more resources into schools located in low-income areas. Where was the outreach to these students well before their teen years to provide the resources and tools needed to excel in schools such as after-school activities like sports and job placement? The fact is we stopped investing in our youth and we simultaneously stopped nurturing healthy relationships with our community police departments. I said community because we cannot think of police forces as separate entities that operate independently from the societies they protect. You cannot effectively protect what you do not know. In return, many cannot feel safe unless they know who is in charge of protecting them. There needs to be a mutually beneficial partnership between local communities and law enforcement with the shared goal of safety.
The key to any successful relationship relies on trust and knowing each other. It is evident with the decades of mistreatment of so many by some in law enforcement that this relationship has not been established. I say some and not all because not all police officers are biased and not all commit police brutality. However, this does not mean that within the fabric of the system there are not built-in biases in the way officers are trained. My son, brother, or daughter or myself have a better chance of being pulled over for driving while black than a non-minority. My family member may encounter undue force as opposed to a non-minority. We have seen this scenario play out over and over. Many of our black and brown youth do not have relationships with law enforcement anymore. Programs such as the Police Athletic League and the Explorers Clubs are all worthwhile investments that introduce and cultivate healthy relationships with youth and our law enforcement entities. Similarly, community organizations working in conjunction with police can also benefit communities. The future of policing should not be the abolishment of police. I fail to believe that a society with no law enforcement is the answer. And no amount of violence interrupters or social workers can stop those that are bent on harming others or taking others’ lives. We lose countless amounts of our children to gun violence and a social worker is not going to stop that. We need enforcement of the law and at the same time, we need fair and just, and equal treatment when the law is enforced. The two cannot be mutually different. Social workers can help in conjunction with our local police but one should not be substituted for the other.
As members of the community, we have the right to feel safe and protected from violent crime, and our possessions should be protected from petty crime. We deserve the quality of life. We should not be subjected to people urinating in the streets or on public transportation, vandalism, or public displays of lewdness. The answer is not to abolish our law enforcement policies. The answer is to redesign them in concert with communities to ensure they treat all equally. The answers also lie in training and educating law enforcement and within our communities. Let us stop taking the easy way out and hold ourselves and our local police accountable for creating a safe and fair space for all law-abiding people no matter race, color, or cultural background. The future of community policing will take all of us to commit to it.