Close your eyes and imagine a world without police, where violent crimes occur but nobody responds to assist. Picture cities where no laws are enforced, where criminality takes over neighborhoods and the justice system grinds to a halt. While this sounds implausible, I wonder how urban police departments will survive these times, where protests can turn into riots on a dime, as increasingly violent society demands murder charges when police officers use deadly force.
As a former law enforcement officer, I am puzzled at times how communities can hold law enforcement officers to different standards than the ones by which they hold themselves. I don’t dispute there are some law enforcement officers whose actions demand accountability. What I have trouble with, though, is why communities express a disproportionate level of outrage over police shootings than they do when citizens kill each other. As I see it, there are more citizen-on-citizen killings taking place in our cities than there are racially motivated police shootings. But, I don’t see the community come out in full force and demand justice when the majority of those shootings occur. I don’t see civil lawsuits being filed for wrongful death, and I don’t see an effort by the community to hold each other accountable for criminal behaviors that lead to the police being called.
Recently in the Detroit area, the news reported on two shooting stories. In one, an officer shot a man wanted for a probation violation who fled from police. The other story was about two children who were shot while outside playing. Only one of those news stories created a public outcry for justice where a protest ensued. Only time will tell if a police officer will, as the public demands, be charged with a crime for using deadly force. Only time will tell if the city will be sued for millions by an outraged family.
As for the other shooting, there haven’t been many civil lawsuits filed by outraged families against the criminals whose stray bullets kill their children. It makes me wonder why public outrage only seems to apply to police shootings. This appears to be an incongruous double standard. There seems to be an immediate assumption when a police shooting occurs, the police are wrong and have murdered an innocent community member. They make split-second decisions that may or may not hold up as justified, but they are usually responding to some type of crime being committed.
In my estimation, if you commit a crime, especially one that involves a weapon of any sort, you assume the risk that you could be injured or killed. That aspect is frequently swept under the rug as the public outcry focuses on everything but why the police were there in the first place. Second-guessing the decisions made by officers in the heat of the moment is a task best left to independent investigators, especially when the general public does not often acknowledge any accountability on the part of the person the police shot. If they can’t recognize criminality in their own community, they probably aren’t capable of judging what would justify deadly force. It’s difficult to imagine anyone wanting to work in law enforcement in communities where this double standard on behaviors exists.
While I firmly believe that inappropriate actions by police officers warrant full investigation and criminal charges when necessary, I have trouble with the trend I see where police actions are the only ones under scrutiny. I would like to see communities express the same level of outrage in cases where police respond to shootings and victims refuse to cooperate with law enforcement. I’d like to see outrage when witnesses invoke the “no snitching” standard that abounds in crime-ridden neighborhoods.
In the new year, I suggest we search for ways neighborhood residents can hold themselves accountable for the behaviors that precede calls for police service. If some of the energy expended on protests could be redirected into education, training, poverty alleviation and overall behavioral changes on the streets, there might be less cause for deadly force overall. Fewer crimes in a neighborhood means fewer police visits to a neighborhood.
Treating police like the enemy is only part of the problem. I would hate to see a world where that particular enemy retreats completely, leaving lawlessness in its wake.
Photo by Chris Yarzab
Licensed attorney, former federal agent and social justice filmmaker. I work in Corporate America but my heart is in the streets. I am passionate about social reform and eliminating poverty, and I also love fashion, firearms and Jack Russell Terriers. I believe that education and empowerment lead to cultural change.