One quiet night, a little after midnight, I happened to be driving in my car. I saw this kid with his friend riding a scooter very fast. They caught my attention. His friend was walking and he was riding the scooter. They passed by my car as I approached the corner. A few seconds later, before they could cross the street, along came a group of kids, about 15 of them. They were running towards these two kids, targeting the one on the scooter.
I sat there in my car, confused, afraid and amazed at the same time. This group of teens were pummeling this kid, using fists, kicking and one of them hit this kid with his bicycle. It was a serious attack.
I sat there about a minute, I think. Time just stood still. Looking around me, still in disbelief, I saw cars passing by and not stopping. I also saw another adult, a man, also sitting in his car on the opposite side of the street. One would hope that he would try to intervene. He didn’t.
I jumped out of my car, though I had already imagined in my head what they might do to me if I approached them. I was scared, but I couldn’t just sit there and watch this continue. So, quickly walking up towards them, I yelled at the mob to stop. I was still scared, because they could have turned around and come after me.
I just couldn’t not do anything. They heard me yelling and heading towards them and stopped the attack and started running away. To my disbelief and great disappointment, the other observer, that man, stepped out of his car and then immediately got back in. He stood about 6 feet 3 inches or so-taller and definitely more intimidating looking than me.
He drove away, leaving me with these kids. The injured one got up off of the ground to my great surprise. I thought that those kids had killed him or that he was knocked unconscious, after all the blows he withstood.
I got closer and helped him walk to the sidewalk, leaned him on someone’s fence and waited for the police. I forgot to mention that, while I was watching this attack, I had called 911. I asked the kid if he was alright, telling him that he probably needed medical attention. He refused to consider it.
He and his friend began talking about revenge. They were talking about telling their brothers, getting guns and retaliating. I told them that it wasn’t worth it and they should just go home.
By the time the police arrived on the scene, I was getting back into my car, preparing to leave. It seems that someone else had called the police, too. They came from all directions. I went back to those kids, and the first officer who approached them began shoving him against that fence and started to rough him up.
I stopped the officers and said that he was the victim in all of this. I told them that I witnessed the attack and that the kids ran away. One of the officers asked me whether I saw the direction in which they fled, and I told them. Off they went in pursuit.
The point of this story is to say that black kids are most likely to be assumed suspects, even in their own communities, and even when they are the victims of crimes.
Here we have a case for ‘street justice’, where personal disputes are settled outside of society’s established avenues. Right or wrong. Look at what happens when they are victims and call for help. That’s the rationale.
For black and brown people, the ‘other’, totaling merely 37% of the nation, we cannot justify why they are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites and make up a minimum of 67% of the prison population. How many families must be separated, children devastated, mothers worried and families negatively impacted, before we say ‘enough’?
All black or poor people are not violent criminals, nor are they evil by nature. Even our nation’s sworn political enemies are not all criminal, amoral or evil. That is sheer logic, borrowed from the theories we ascribe to. Why then, don’t their lives matter? Why do we shoot or bomb citizens representative of their communities, different, first and ask questions later-when it’s too late?
Then we defend these actions by interjecting one four-letter word…fear. Your fear is your problem and besides, before reaching the streets, your training should have taught you strategies and given you tools to manage your fears. The thing is that you aren’t the only person who feels fear in these interactions. The gun is not the only tools police should be armed with. The objective is to diffuse, divert, de-escalate, and defend the truths of your citizens. If you believe that you are seeing guns and other weapons in the hands of black men, then make an appointment with an optometrist for a prescription for better vision.
Incarceration is not an equal opportunity punishment. During stops that do not result in an arrest, Blacks are more than 12 times as likely as Whites to experience the use of force in stop and frisks by NYPD. That was in 2010. This policing consistently focused on Blacks and Latinos, in their own neighborhoods. Blacks were 11 times more likely to be frisked by NYPD. These do not represent the most heinous, avoidable and often, unforgivable outcomes when policing ‘minority’ populations-young black men, in particular.
We must step outside of our cultural limitations to operate beyond biases in order to perform our sworn duties of our chosen profession, which in this case, is to protect and serve ALL citizens within our jurisdictions. In this scenario, this was New York City, in the relative suburbs, close to Long Island. This approach to policing, unfortunately, is repeated in countless cities across the country.Whether small segment of communities or the majority, so- called ‘minority’ populations have grown used to these types of interactions with police-at all levels.
Police target low income neighborhoods and ruptured and spoiled relations between themselves and communities they patrol—particularly communities of color. This is among some of the greatest challenges facing contemporary American society. American reliance on punitive enforcement, especially for minor transgressions, has resulted in a recurring adversarial dynamic that fans the flames of deeply rooted acrimony toward police in many communities already enduring systemic problems of racism, poverty, high crime rates, and limited access to social services.
Damaged police-community relations make it more difficult for police to execute their most critical responsibility: to respond to violent crime and protect public safety. There is an incredible lack of trust between law enforcement and many of the people they are sworn to serve. In responding to crime, policing strategies and decisions must reflect an awareness of the social problems that underlie it.
We must get to the bottom of this ‘street justice’ phenomenon and begin to transform policing from a profession that defaults to enforcement, to one that prioritizes productive community relations and positive engagement. To achieve this, we can nurture bottom-up policing, where whole agencies—not just special units or liaisons—are informed by, collaborate with, and are responsive to the community. It must appreciate the role that present and historic racism has played in corroding trust and good will.
Poor, black and brown communities feel alone and on their own. Crime is not racial; it is economic.With modern 21st Century police forces in the employ of population- sufficient agent representatives, organized justice systems should reflect practices which are just that-just and restorative -not ‘just us’ objectives.