Last week, I had a thought that I wanted to write a piece on the tension that exists between the black community and police departments around the nation. As horrible as it sounds, I thought to myself the next time there is an officer involved shooting of a black man, I'll write it. They're becoming as dependable in America as tax day. Every few months or sometimes even days, there is news of another African American dying at the hands of police and just as predictable as the shooting itself, protesters take to the streets demanding that the violence against their community stops. They say they feel discriminated against. They feel afraid. They feel hunted.
But if you ask most police officers, they'll tell you it's the other way around. Politicians and ambitious prosecutors looking to make a name for themselves want to serve up officers’ heads on a stick as they see it. They have a tough job where they put their lives on the line to protect their community. Situations and encounters develop in seconds and near-instant decisions need to be made, later to be torn apart by the peanut gallery that has the privilege to watch video footage in slow-motion, from different angles. Some say they are afraid to do their jobs because they don't want to be the next vilified police officer that is accused of murder.
The black community has a well-founded historical distrust of the police in general. The civil rights era molded how many from that generation view police. State troopers blocking black kids from going into white schools, the beat downs, killings, unleashing police dogs on peaceful civil rights protesters and the list goes on. That deep seeded distrust of law enforcement from those who experienced or witnessed that doesn't just go away and it's very likely that it gets passed down to their children. Other high profile abuses such as the Rodney King beating just cement those feelings of distrust and fear.
It's worthwhile to consider both perspectives. According to Sir Robert Peel, the father of modern policing, law enforcement is a relationship between the public and the police. Let's use a husband and wife relationship analogy. If a husband cheated on his wife, the husband needs to work vigorously to repair the relationship so that his wife can trust him again. Even if he's been faithful for 5 years but he hasn't done anything to proactively repair the trust, then there's a major problem with that relationship. For a relationship to work properly, both parties need to be on the same page. Whether the perceptions are real or imagined, both sides need to work to change those perceptions so that trust is reestablished.
And so it is with police. As public servants, it is incumbent on them to proactively work with the black community they serve to repair their relationship. Likewise, It is incumbent on the black community to be receptive to outreach and partnerships from police departments that are trying to do the right thing. Peel says in his Principles of Law Enforcement, “The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.”
Repairing this relationship isn't only the right thing to do, it helps make officers’ jobs easier and prevents violence. Peel says, “The police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain public respect. The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force and compulsion in achieving police objectives.”
There’s no doubt that work needs to be done. The relationship needs to be repaired or else the bad blood will fester. Peel’s fifth principle: “The police seek and preserve public favor by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to the law... by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of society without regard to their race or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humor; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.” Let's consider the black community’s perspective of their relationship with police, and let's fix it.
Note: The night this piece was published, 5 police officers in Dallas, TX in apparent retaliation for the officer involved shootings earlier in the week, were killed. Dallas PD is among the best community policing organizations in the country. They set the trend for deescalation techniques and have the fewest officer involved shootings when compared with other cities of that size. Let's remember the fallen officers who were there facilitating a peaceful protest.