Race and its role as a factor in violence has been thrust into the forefront of the American psyche in the form of seething social media and widespread protests, demanding the government to respond to a moral imperative to stop perpetrating injustice against those of color.
Over the past decade, black people being killed by the police have become staples of the American conscience in harrowing headlines, driving people to the streets and internet in outrage. George Floyd’s death has reinvigorated a movement transcending combating police brutality, instead aiming to purge all institutions of racism. In regards to racial violence, their narrative is that there is a war on black people, “all cops are bastards,” and the historical roots of police being racist are still fully intact- essentially, the primary perpetrator of violence towards people of color, especially black people, is racist law enforcement.
In fact, the narrative of the police are at the front lines of a systemic, society-wide “war on blacks” is the direct cause for an increase in interracial violence in colored communities, ultimately amounting to more deaths in the very groups that the movement preaches to empower. In order to address the roots of violence that disproportionally harms people of color, the media-smeared reputation of law enforcement must first redeem itself through fundamental policy changes, so that they can be reinstated where in high crime areas where they’re needed the most.
We should aim to change the way the role of police officer, or law enforcement, is presented to trainees and working officers. Despite 80% of interactions between police and citizens being nonviolent in nature, news reports and officers’ testimonies expose the unreasonably aggressive rhetoric that trainees are often imbued with- to view every person as a potential criminal or threat to themselves as officers and to the civilians around them, and to not hesitate in using force when danger was perceived as present- and the unreasonably scant training in deescalation. As a result, officers are often on the defensive, perpetually ready to escalate into aggression- not out of a desire for violence or conflict- but fear and impulse for self-preservation that has been amplified by training.
The disparity of accountability between police and other occupations can be illustrated clearly: If a pilot is incompetent and crashes, that pilot is deemed incapable of his job and removed. Conversely, police get away with misconduct through a myriad of structures- ruthlessly protective police unions, Qualified Immunity, unwillingness of prosecution to prosecute due to their partnership with the police, and inadequate maintenance of misconduct records. A pilot union defending a member after they crashed a plane, or the unique circumstances of the crash preventing the crash from being seen as punishable, sounds ludicrous- yet that is how the police are treated. Almost 25% of police officers fired for misconduct were reinstated through clandestine maneuvers within the court and union, an alarming retention rate of individuals who proved themselves incompetent and dangerous.
In terms of accountability and misguided training, the terrible stigma that has latched onto, and nowadays defined policing, is justified. Until officers are effectively and consistently penalized for wrongdoing and redefine their values in an officer to orient around problem-solving as opposed to an us-them mentality, the anti-police rhetoric will continue to cripple communities who need most policing.
Two main characterizations of a high crime area is concentrated disadvantage (poverty, drugs, low education) and racial homogeneity, and more recently, broken relationships between police and their communities. Between 2014 and 2017, violent crime increased for the first time since 2005, predominantly in colored communities. An unmistakable factor in crime’s uptick in 2014 is increased media coverage, often accented with hysterics, of police brutality against black people. Overwhelmingly, colored communities lost their trust in the police, resulting in two things that increased violence there: first, not notifying police as frequently when crime occurs, leading to more unsolved or unregistered crimes; second, residents “taking matters into their own hands” through violence.
In recent years, following publicized cases of police brutality, calls to 911 decreased across cities for about a year, especially in colored neighborhoods- even if crimes were occurring or increasing in these areas, and allowing this trend to continue. In 2015, following Ferguson, underpolicing in South Central neighborhoods in Los Angeles led to a “ghettoside” authority system, where gangs became loci of power and “no snitch” culture prevented crimes to be testified against or reported. Similar patterns can be seen in spikes in gang violence Chicago’s colored communities in 2016 after a period of decline, and the dramatic increase in unsolved murders corresponding with nationwide decline of trust in law enforcement.
The past three months only confirm the causal effect between increased negative attention towards the police and widespread suffering and death among people of color. In Chicago, a city that is one third black and another third Hispanic, while overall crime decreased by 9%, murders spiked by 139% in July compared to July 2019, totalling 105 in that single month. In the first weekend alone, there were 79 shootings, 15 of them fatal. Compared to the same time of year in 2019, shootings increased by 75%, from 2019’s 232 to 2020’s 406 in the month of July alone. 573 people were victims of gunfire, with at least 58 of them under the age of 18. The White House press secretary emphasized six children who were killed in Chicago, including Mekhi James (age 3), Sincere Gaston (age 1), and Natalia Wallace (age 7). These innocent lives were lost in frenzied criminality, enabled by police responding to public pressure in the name of curtailing racism against blacks- yet all these children were black and most likely killed by other black people, given that homicide is highest within a race and locality and Chicago has a high black population, relative to the rest of the country.
Similarly, New York City’s shootings skyrocketed by 177% in July, amounting to 777 in total - surpassing the total of the entirely of 2019- and killing 54 as of August 2, accompanied by a decrease of robberies, assault, and rape. Teen Bronx basketball and academic star Brandon Hendricks and 1 year old Davell Gardner are just two of the more prominent casualties from recent violence.
De Blasio hasn’t offered any concrete solution even as his streets grow slick with blood, blatantly denying the correlation between the dystopian escalation of gun violence and the disbanding of NYPD’s 600-officer plain-clothed unit tasked with combatting gun crime. Even though gun arrests had been rising prior to June 15, they dropped 60% in the four weeks following the dissolution of the specialized unit and has spiraled into outright carnage beyond what longtime New Yorkers have seen, even through the 1960s and 70s before Juliani’s tough on crime policies. De Blasio’s blind eye and the NYPD’s drastic decision has raised concerns from black leaders, who called on NYPD to bring back the plain-clothed unit as people died across the city, critiquing city officials for allowing such a rash change to be made. In fact, 81% of black Americans- the group that is supposedly the most unfairly victimized by law enforcement- want police to maintain or increase their presence in the communities.
Perhaps the most blatant example of overzealous anti-police rhetoric occurred in Atlanta, where eight year old Secrorea Turner was shot by a BLM protestor at the same Wendy’s that Rayshard Brooks was killed. Mayor Keisha Bottoms stated “You can't blame this on police officers. It's about people who shot a baby in a car. We're doing each other more harm than any officer on this force." More simply and powerfully put in the words of Turner’s parents, “You killed your own this time.”
Data, from the past several years, and particularly the past three months, indicates that renewed and often visceral attitudes towards policing, accusing them of structural racism, only hurts these very people of color. We must become educated about the nature of race's relationship with violence and think critically before we speak or act. Although it is tempting to view violence through only the lens of racism, the dire impacts of this stigma have to be considered on a deeper level to avoid overcorrection that leaves hundreds of dead bodies in its wake.
*The author does not claim to represent all the opinions of all the members of the Postpartisan in this essay.