Are Communities Safer With Police Presence?

Just the other day, I was having a discussion with a friend, and it centered around what they call, “community policing“. Many issues came up in the discussion that were both topical and thought-provoking. Central question: Are communities safer with police being visibly present?

One may consider this a conundrum, because in more affluent neighborhoods, safety is a ‘given’. Of course, police have jurisdiction in every community, but in these largely white areas, police are not so visible or intrusive. They don’t scream out to the residents that they are there ‘for their protection’. One can drive through a neighborhood with nicely manicured lawns and long driveways on tree-lined streets for  hours without encountering one police car or an officer on a street corner.

photo of man leaning on car

This is a fact. Try it out for yourself. These communities are usually very quiet with minimal movement going on outside. No youth gathering at a corner store, sitting on park benches or loud music being played. Why? There are backyards, basements, family rooms and there is a large variety of spaces and structured activities for youth at their immediate disposal. The youth don’t have to gather on street corners and other public spaces and try to come up with an activity for them to participate. At any given time, they have private spaces to  share- usually at someone’s home, indoors on private property.

On the other hand, you have neighborhoods that resemble ‘concrete jungles’, where people live on top of one another. No green spaces and definitely none that are privately owned. No basements or back yards. There are limited pools, or just a youth-friendly space to ‘hang out’ and socialize. Going over to a friend’s house is not the best idea, because space is limited there. Many residents live in apartments where they may have to double up sleeping spaces. 

If teens are the ‘problem’ in society, the youth whose prison careers begin as young juveniles, then where do they go? What do they do? They meet up at the corner store. They walk around…in groups. Mindful must we be that, in poorer communities, where people’s homes are apartments, public housing, they have no ownership there. Ironically though, many of the youth who live in these housing developments or ‘projects’, become quite territorial. When gangs are formed, they often become location-based.

Why gangs? That is another topic of discussion completely. The point here is that in poorer communities, usually black and brown[not by any accident or coincidence at all], youth have no where to go outside of their homes. It must also be understood that many of these youth, have underlying or outwardly displayed issues with anger. And, at a time when they are seeking out their own individual identity, they are labeled and identities are thrust upon them. This understandably adds to their anger.

Pain is often disguised as anger. When going or coming home from school, or a candy store, these youth are perceived as suspects and criminals, even when they have done absolutely nothing.-Nothing any differently than would a white counterpart doing likewise-going from point A to point B. Innocently.

It is well-known that with poverty comes crime. That is not to say that where there is wealth, crime is absent. That would be a fool-hearty assumption. However, there is a presumption of ‘criminality’ with regards to blacks in this country.

The origins of our modern-day police mentality can be traced back to the “Slave Patrol”. The earliest formal slave patrol was created in the Carolinas in the early 1700s, with the following mission: to establish a system of terror in response to slave uprisings with the capacity to pursue, apprehend, and return runaway slaves to their owners, including the use of excessive force to control and produce desired slave behavior.  Slave Patrols allowed forcible entry into any home solely based on suspicions of protecting runaway slaves.  Slave Patrols continued until the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment.

After emancipation, newly found freedoms came at a terrible cost. What we now consider ‘law enforcement’ and policing became an everyday job for the everyday white man. All efforts, gains and upward mobility, including the freedom of mobility, were closely monitored and then restricted. Whether police, KKK, or average ‘Joe’, black people were treated like criminals and although free to travel and other means of self-determination, they were met with horror.

For whites, the reasons for arming themselves had nothing to do with hunting for food or chasing away dangerous animals. It was to intimidate, harm or kill black people.Neither today’s white or black youth knows this contextualized origin of this reality. Particularly unknown is the connection to black people’s experiences, realities and relationship with law enforcement today.

Speaking about today’s relationship with police, not much has changed since the 17 and 1800’s into the 19-2000’s. The differences between then and now relates to the fact that the regard for black people and the central objective was widely known. Public information. Moving forward, at a time when acts similar to the historic behaviors is unfathomable to the white population, they have been cloaked in policies with loopholes and lends itself to the public perception of benign innocence of police. The guilt is always presumed to fall on the black ‘suspect’.

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Are we so misguided as to believe that black youth do not understand that they are ‘trapped’ and confined to their own private ‘Hell’, that you call neighborhoods? Do we not know that they realize how unfairly they, friends and/or family have been treated in their neighborhoods? Can we look ourselves honestly in the mirror and believe that these youth haven’t witnessed a double-standard in the way policing is done? These statistics illustrate some of the perils of policing in America.

  • A Black person is five times more likely to be stopped without just cause than a white person.
  • A Black man is twice as likely to be stopped without just cause than a Black woman.
  • 65% of Black adults have felt targeted because of their race. Similarly, approximately 35% of Latino and Asian adults have felt targeted because of race.

There is an obvious disparity in how the general public view fatal encounters between police and Black people. 66% of white people believe these encounters were isolated incidents.

  • 84% of Black adults say white people are treated better than black people by police; 63% of white adults agree based on 2019 research on police relations.
  • 87% of Black adults say the U.S. criminal justice system is more unjust towards Black people; 61% of white adults agree.
  • Despite the fact that more white people have been killed by police, Black and Hispanic people are disproportionately impacted.  While white people make up a little over 60% of the population, they only make up about 41% of fatal police shootings.  Black people make up 13.4% of the population, but make up 22% of fatal police shootings.
  • Police killings of unarmed Black Americans are responsible for more than 50 million additional days of poor mental health per year among Black Americans. This mental health burden is comparable to that associated with diabetes, a disease that strikes 1 in 5 Black Americans.
  • Fatal police violence is the 6th leading cause of death for men ages 25 to 29 across all racial groups.
  • The lifetime risk of dying from police violence is at its highest from ages 20 to 35, and this applies to men and women of all races.
  • On average, Black Americans are exposed to four police killings of other unarmed Black Americans in the same state each year.
  • One out of every three Black boys born today can expect to be sentenced to prison, compared 1 out 6 Latino boys; one out of 17 white boys.

If the question arises that speaks to the level of safety in communities , and the level of safety felt by communities with a visible police presence, the stats and the history speak volumes. In the black community, residents have been plagued by terrorism coming from law  enforcement for generations. Most citizens are afraid and resentful of a police presence. They are distrustful and angry at the mere sight of them.

A sense of cognitive dissonance exists among many people. There is the idea that police are there to protect them, but they witness and experience the opposite. The feeling is that police are there either to arrest, harass or keep them contained, ‘in their place’ by surrounding them. Daily mobility is closely monitored and scrutinized, which builds up tension and more anger.

Are communities much safer with police presence? Not really. Not their communities. Where safety is assured and increased is in the outer communities-the white communities. That is because these communities are surrounded and contained. It keeps anger at a high level and any crime is still confined within. That doesn’t sound very much like safety for them at all.It sounds like a community under siege. Black people are still being arrested at much higher rates than whites, and that happens in their own communities. Disparities still persist. It is just history repeating itself.


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