Question: “To defund or not to defund?” From my perspective, I see that question as a distraction from the “real” issue which is, “How do we reform ‘policing’ into true public safety?” I concur with those who advocate a realignment of law enforcement budgets to incorporate the employment of mental health and counseling personnel. De-escalation must be incorporated into the police culture. When other options are dismissed and the first instinct is the use of lethal force, I call it murder. Incorporating these options, we might then be able to bring this cycle of Blacks being murdered by police to a necessary end.
Many learned analysts state their belief that “modern policing” evolved from the activities of the pre-Civil War slave-catchers. I will not argue, but I see post-emancipation as white America’s greater conundrum. What to do with and how to manage free Negroes became their larger question. Social norms provided partial answers — separate segregated residential areas and restrictive social interaction. Policing provided the other answer — keeping the niggers where they belong — away from them.
Formerly enslaved people were an estimated 20% of the post-Civil War South population. There was fear of Black retribution. Wherever Blacks congregated, it was the norm to perceive them as ignorant beasts. From the largest cities to the smallest towns, Black populations were confined to urban ghettos or “across the tracks,” with police serving to maintain the distance. From the beginning, “policing” for Blacks in policy and practice equaled “control,” not protection and service.
The civil rights era brought significant dissonance into the ranks of law enforcement. As the barriers and restrictions to social interaction gradually began to erode, “control” became an activity more difficult to define and justify. Exposure of police violence through the national media (i.e., the March on the Edmund Pettis Bridge) gave rise to fewer Americans willing to accept police abuse. Law enforcement was fortunate in that the “majority opinion” gave them the benefit of the doubt to act as they felt appropriate. They continued violence with renewed vigor.
Martial organizations generally form concretized cultures that change very slowly. When examined, military and police are shown to practice more rigid adherence to standardized procedures and practices. The old within the ranks of law enforcement teach the young and express the expectation an attitude of “we’ve always done things this way.” Training Officer Derek Chauvin is a prime example.
Technology has been a godsend in the fight against police brutality. Smartphones make everyone who has one a potential videographer, and the truth of what we can see destroys a lie almost every time. Since the filming of the Rodney King beating, video recordings have increasingly become a primary weapon in countering police misconduct. It has increased the confidence of every law-abiding Black citizen to resist police abuse.
It is my belief that the resultant loss of “control and power” has created a smoldering hostility in those inclined to use excessive force. Like the arrogance of Chauvin perched on the neck of George Floyd, many exercise a warped and distorted right to do what they want to demonstrate, to all who witness, continuing unlimited control.
As always and for what it is worth, I will attempt to offer a remedy. We must remember and acknowledge! First, we must remember that, even during the depths of enslavement, we used our minds to frustrate the evil intent of our enemies. Without prejudging, we must acknowledge that the operational principle of any officer we encounter MAY BE “control with hostile intent.” Like a chess player, when faced with such evil, we must have the knowledge to anticipate and counter the actions of our adversaries. We must then acknowledge that, for us, “Officer Friendly” rarely exists.
Williams is president of the National Congress of Black Women.