Black, Brown, Or White: Nobody Wants To Live Without Law Enforcement
Secoriea Turner was only 8 years old when she was fatally wounded during a violent Fourth of July weekend in Atlanta. According to published reports, she was in the car with her mother, who was attempting to turn into a parking lot near a Wendy's restaurant that was the scene of a highly publicized police shooting last month. For reasons that are a mystery to the rest of us, gunmen opened fire on the vehicle.
Turner's death may have been the most heart-wrenching, but it wasn't the only one. Between Friday, July 3, and Sunday, July 5, Atlanta recorded 11 separate shooting incidents with 31 victims, five of whom, including Secoriea, were killed.
The holiday weekend was marred by violence across the nation. Children were among those fatally wounded not only in Atlanta but also in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. In Southeast Washington, 11-year-old Davon McNeal was shot as he and his mother were leaving a community cookout designed to curb violence and promote peace. Davon's mother, Crystal McNeal, had organized the event.
These appalling homicides should serve notice to the activists who are demanding that cities abolish their police departments. It's quite unlikely that the families of the victims want to live in communities with no police protection. Nor do the majority of Americans, Black, white and brown.
Just ask Horace Lorenzo Anderson Sr., whose 19-year-old son, known as Lorenzo, was fatally wounded by an unknown assailant in late June in Seattle's autonomous zone for protesters, which was barricaded by armed civilians, closed to police and apparently inaccessible to first-responders. Grief-stricken and angry, Anderson Sr. was among those who demanded that law enforcement agents shut down the Capitol Hill Occupation Protest (CHOP) zone, which they did after his son was killed and another man wounded.
There are perfectly logical reasons why homicides carried out by civilians -- estranged husbands and ex-boyfriends, robbers and drug dealers, gang-bangers and violent teenagers -- don't draw the massive protests that followed the murder of George Floyd. Police officers are rightly held to a higher standard than criminals. They take an oath to protect and serve. Instead, they too often behave as an occupying force steeped in centuries of racism and malignant stereotypes about Black and brown Americans.
Frustratingly, police culture has proved largely impervious to reform. Paramilitary organizations and police departments attract individuals with political beliefs ranging from right-of-center to reactionary. Police unions overwhelmingly endorsed the racist Donald Trump when he sought the presidency. And they indoctrinate or intimidate any open-minded newcomers to ensure that they conform to behaviors that alienate residents of less-affluent Black and brown neighborhoods. It's not surprising that some involved in the Black Lives Matter movement have grown so impatient with the entire policing enterprise.
Yet, every civilized society needs law enforcement agents because ... humans. Some small percentage of us will commit crimes. We need police officers who are well-trained, humane and dedicated to serving, not controlling, the communities they patrol.
That's especially true for less-affluent Black neighborhoods. Young Black men commit a disproportionate share of violent crimes, but they commit them against Black victims. (Trump's Twitter feed notwithstanding, the vast majority of crime is intraracial.) That means that Black residents of poorer neighborhoods are disproportionately victimized by violent crime.
Since the 1990s, rates of violent crime have dropped remarkably in cities across the country, falling by half in some major cities. But this summer of discontent has seen a disconcerting rise in random violence, a statistic that ought to trouble anybody worried about Black lives.
Experts aren't sure why violence is rising, but they have cited a combination of factors, including high unemployment, the coronavirus lockdown and the intense stress those conditions have created as possible contributing factors. "I think it's just a perfect storm of distress in America," said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms after the violent holiday weekend.
Some of that distress, undoubtedly, has been created by the plague of police violence that has swamped our television screens. But the answer to police violence is not to abolish police forces and fire even those officers committed to fairness and justice. The answer, instead, is to hire many more of them.
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