Protesters on Saturday gathered at the New York Police Department’s 75th Precinct office in protest of the November shooting death of Akai Gurley, another unarmed black man who was shot and killed by a rookie officer in a dark public housing stairwell. The protesters turned their backs on police officers who stood behind a metal barricade, emulating the police officers’ actions of turning their backs on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos.
New York Times columnist Anna North earlier this week highlighted those who have linked the shootings of two NYPD officers last weekend to protests against police violence.
For instance, she noted that, while former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani said that “it goes too far to blame the mayor for the murder,” he also said “the mayor did not properly police the protests.” He added: “The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged. The protests, even the ones that don’t lead to violence — a lot of them lead to violence — all of them lead to a conclusion: The police are bad, the police are racist.”
Even New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said, “It is quite apparent, quite obvious, that the targeting of these two police officers was a direct spinoff of this issue of these demonstrations.”
On the other hand, Jamelle Bouie at Slate said, “Despite what these police organizations and their allies allege, there isn’t an anti-police movement in this country, or at least, none of any significance. The people demonstrating for Eric Garner and Michael Brown aren’t against police, they are for better policing. They want departments to treat their communities with respect, and they want accountability for officers who kill their neighbors without justification.”
Nazgol Ghandnoosh, a research analyst for the Sentencing Project and the author of a report on Americans’ ideas about race and crime, told the New York Times, even if Ismaaiyl Brinsley was motivated by political conviction and not by mental illness, “he acted on his own. The hundreds of thousands of people that have been out on the streets have been very explicit that they are nonviolent people, that they are trying to achieve reforms through nonviolent means. So there could be an underlying shared concern, but people are following very different paths.”
And, she argues, “Failing to listen to protesters may make it harder, not easier, for police to do their jobs.” She continued, “We know from accounts from police officers themselves and from prosecutors,” that “they are not able to do the work that they need to do effectively when they don’t have trust and cooperation from the communities that they’re serving.”
As we have noted previously, “Lack of trust in police may make it harder to convict criminals,” she said, “because police are not seen as credible witnesses. And when police have a bad relationship with the communities in which they work.” she continued, “the happiness and the satisfaction that they have in their own work and the comfort that they have in doing it” can suffer — and she cited claims that the police department’s stop-and-frisk tactics actually harmed officer morale.
An unwillingness to hear criticism from the community, she said, “doesn’t serve public interest, and it doesn’t serve the interests of the front-line officers and correctional workers that are having to do this work, that are finding it harder to do the work that they need to get done.”
A point that stood out to me was an excerpt from the book, Policing Citizenship: America’s Antidemocratic Institutions and the New Civic Underclass, by Vesla Weaver, with Amy Lerman.
The author notes, “The heavy police presence in those neighborhoods causes residents to see the police as the embodiment of the government and creates a fear of and hostility toward the whole idea of government in ways that undermines any aspiration they might otherwise feel to participate as citizens. It creates a common desire among young black men in such neighborhoods to keep their heads down, not be noticed and stay off the grid in the belief that getting noticed leads to getting at least hassled if not arrested.”
A poster has commented, “Weaver’s interviews with residents of some of those neighborhoods suggest the policy is backfiring, that residents – especially in neighborhoods where police engage in a high-level of stops and searches of young men and especially in neighborhoods where a high portion of those searches do not find any contraband and do not result in arrests – create a mistrust of the police and an unwillingness to engage with the government.”
“The stability of democracy depends on the losers, or least powerful, to still believe they can enter the contest, to still abide by the same system rather than seek to subvert it,” Ms. Weaver said. But the poster says, “Her interviews convinced her that the opposite is occurring.”
This is a point we have been making – the police are seen to many residents as the enforcement arm of the government, which is why police shootings are seen differently from standard murder.
Now our poster sees that high crime “neighborhoods are also neighborhoods with a higher concentration of under-class. People with greater personal problems: substance abuse, mental and emotional health challenges, low education levels, general ignorance, low morality, etc.”
I think that it becomes dangerous to speculate that far. Moreover, the solution seems unnecessarily binary: “We can either send in the police to keep the order, or get them out of there. I vote to get them out of there. I value the lives of the cops and it is clear from the ramped up anger over their attempts to provide order, they are not welcome and their lives are in greater danger.”
While I think the poster actually does a good job of getting to the heart of the matter with respect to the distrust that a heavy police presence brings, the solution they offer is unnecessarily simplistic.
The answer isn’t to pull out, ignore the problems, allow the communities to fix it themselves. Instead, the answer is to acknowledge that the current way of doing things is not working and find an alternative.
There are plenty of community engagement and community policing models to draw from here that will enable the communities themselves to be empowered and to become partners in their efforts to help their own streets and neighborhoods.
We have the opportunity now to find a new and better model of policing that helps the residents take back their own neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, the shooting by Mr. Brinsley only secures my belief that nothing good comes from violence. We have an opportunity for change that is about to be passed up because it is easy to score political points and take pot shots at each other.
—David M. Greenwald reporting