Guest Commentary: Why Do We Police Protests against Police Violence?

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By Sajid Khan

Why do we need police at the protests against their very existence?

Wouldn’t it be safer and smarter to just let our citizens and people express themselves and not pit them against already trigger-happy, testy, easily insulted armed cops whose careers and jobs are being called into question?

Isn’t this the moment to start policing our community differently by not actively policing them—especially with armed cops?

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 males on the street to gather gang intelligence. No more stop and frisk. Less laws, less probable cause.

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.

Isn’t this the moment to reevaluate whom we hire and train as police officers?

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, George Floyd dead.

We need a concerted shift in whom 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 such as 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. Isn’t this the moment to finally change the way we do things? Instead, as I write this, our police state grows and perpetuates with the imposition of citywide curfews.

Sajid A. Khan is a deputy public defender in Santa Clara County and one half of the Aider and Abettor podcast.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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24 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Why Do We Police Protests against Police Violence?”

    1. David Greenwald

      A reasonable question: would these things have spiralled out of control as they did with no police?

      I remember the pepper spray – the police overreacted and pepper sprayed student protesters. The next Monday there 10,000 in the quad with zero cops and nothing happened. Had the cops been there, it might not have gone so well. Police presence inflames passions and for the most part, the ones I have been to with no police have been more smooth than the ones with police.

      1. Keith Olsen

        So we should just trust BLM and all of the fringe group agitators to be peaceful without police presence?  The police were told to stand down in Minneapolis and we saw what happened there.

        1. David Greenwald

          Once it was out of control it was too late. My experience over the years and the observations from this time leads me to believe that often the police incite rather than calm situations. Look no further than their arrest and assaults on reporters.

        2. Keith Olsen

          You’re cherrypicking.  All anyone has to do is look at the out of control rioters looting and burning down businesses all over the country.  Once the looters saw that they could get away with it because Mayor Jacob Frey had the Minneapolis Police stand down it emboldened rioters everywhere.

        3. Tia Will

          Keith

          All of the arson, looting, chaos and mayhem has all been just a dream.”

          No. But it has been nonexistent here in Davis. You yourself praised Chief Pytel for his approach which involved accompaniment with the only confrontation being to prevent the clearly dangerous act of entering the freeway. No aggressive contact at all. Action clearly proportional to the danger and only taken to protect.

        4. Keith Olsen

          Look no further than their arrest and assaults on reporters.

          I can show you videos of the rioters violently attacking the press if you like.

          1. David Greenwald

            I was just watching a video of a cop at one of the protests, camera guy, clearly media, and he just took his gun and slams the camera in the face with it.

        5. Robert Canning

          Here is an interesting article about demonstration control and escalation/de-escalation: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/de-escalation-keeps-protesters-and-police-safer-heres-why-departments-respond-with-force-anyway/

          The take-home is that increasing use of force increases violence on both sides.

          Here is another good reference, the Camden NJ police use of force policy: https://www.policingproject.org/camden

          And these are its core principles (checkout #6) :

          CORE PRINCIPLE #1: Officers may use force only to accomplish specific law enforcement objectives.

          CORE PRINCIPLE #2: Whenever feasible, officers should attempt to de-escalate confrontations with the goal of resolving encounters without force. Officers may only use force that is objectively reasonable, necessary, and as a last resort.

          CORE PRINCIPLE #3: Officers must use only the amount of force that is proportionate to the circumstances.

          CORE PRINCIPLE #4: Deadly force is only authorized as a last resort and only in strict accordance with this directive.

          CORE PRINCIPLE #5: Officers must promptly provide or request medical aid.

          CORE PRINCIPLE #6: Employees have a duty to stop and report uses of force that violate any applicable law and/or this directive.

        6. Alan Miller

          Once it was out of control it was too late. My experience over the years and the observations from this time leads me to believe that often the police incite rather than calm situations.

          I don’t disagree and have experienced that myself.  The problem, though, isn’t police or police presence, it’s poor police training/tactics.

        7. Alan Miller

           Once the looters saw that they could get away with it because Mayor Jacob Frey had the Minneapolis Police stand down it emboldened rioters everywhere.

          I agree with this, too

          And the attacking on reporters is from both sides and is pitiful/disgusting.  Trying to make a point by who attacks more reporters nationwide misses the point.

      2. Bill Marshall

        would these things have spiralled out of control as they did with no police?

        Yes… and then some.  The instigators of the mayhem, were not protestors… they were/are opportunistic anarchists and/or criminals… they don’t give squat about George Floyd.  They diminish/undermine the valid grievances of the protestors.

        1. David Greenwald

          I was just watching a video of a cop at one of the protests, camera guy, clearly media, and he just took his gun and slams the camera in the face with it.

        2. Alan Miller

          I was just watching a video of a cop at one of the protests, camera guy, clearly media, and he just took his gun and slams the camera in the face with it.

          And therefore protestors taking action against reporters is forgiven.  Yeah, you win . . . pfffffft!

      3. Alan Miller

        A reasonable question: would these things have spiralled out of control as they did with no police?

        That’s not a reasonable question.

        I remember the pepper spray – the police overreacted and pepper sprayed student protesters. The next Monday there 10,000 in the quad with zero cops and nothing happened. Had the cops been there, it might not have gone so well.

        All this is totally wrong.  First of all, it’s Davis.  Second, these were students and Davis civilians for the most part — not a flashpoint of looters, arsonists, hooligans.  And it was organized and took place during the day.

        Third, the place was filled with cops – they were just undercover.   A friend of mine who knew the police force well kept pointing the undercover cops out to me during the event.  It was quite amusing.  “See that guy in the striped shirt?”

  1. Tia Will

    Keith

    You accuse David of cherry-picking, but then proceed to do the same yourself citing two particularly violent episodes. What does not make news are the numerous completely peaceful, uneventful protests that I have personally attended since the Viet Nam war. Peaceful protest does not make regional, let alone national news. The fear that because something violent has happened elsewhere even though there is no evidence of it happening here is a prime cause for potential overreaction by the police. It was the fear that something bad would happen, not an actual bad occurrence that led to the pepper spray incident and all that ensued. Can we not just be happy that the riot gear was not needed, and perhaps appreciate that it may not be the next time either, and that we will have a chief wise enough to appreciate the difference and act on the basis of reason, not fear, as Chief Pytel has done.

    1. Alan Miller

      the numerous completely peaceful, uneventful protests that I have personally attended since the Viet Nam war.

      ahhhh . . . for the good old days.

  2. David Greenwald

    Two quick points.

    First, it’s hard to imagine that Keith is citing current situations as reasons why police presence is helpful.

    I would also recommend reading this piece which notes as I have many times the effectiveness of de-escalation techniques and the lack of use by the police.  Link

    1. Alan Miller

      I’ve had cops use de-escalation on me . . . so it is out there.  The problem is bad cops, bad training, bad tactics . . . I’ve had that used on me too.  In Davis, much more of the former – not claiming perfection by any means.  But “very existence” — I hear people talking that way.  C’mon – you’re either showing off to your friends or deluded — it’s not going to happen.

  3. Alan Miller

    Why Do We Police Protests against Police Violence?

    Why do we need police at the protests against their very existence?

    Two very different questions . . . as to the second . . . hmmm . . . looting, vandalism, safety of protestors?  What about when the dude took off in that car and started plowing through protestors – the protestors cheered the police stopping him (and then unfortunately let him go to do more damage).

    This reminds me of the calls after the pepper spray to disband the campus police.  Surveys showed only a tiny but very vocal minority wanted this.  Change, yes!  Very existence?  Before you go talking like that, show us a plan for what would take the place . . . a new volunteer force?  Anarchy?  Canadian Mounties?  Military rule?  Space Force?  Keystone Kops?   You don’t say . . . so we are left to fill in your blank space.

  4. Robert Canning

    I’m often reminded in these discussions of that great legal analyst – Lenny Bruce. His Berkely Concert from 1966 is on YouTube and he has a great discussion about the law and the cops starting at 3:20. Worth a listen.

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