Reforming Our Perception of Police

By Eric Quintanar Bertram Kreuter

In late March, Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX) received heavy criticism when he called for law enforcement to increase policing in areas “where there is a higher incidence of radical Islamic terrorism.” Ohio governor John Kasich (R-OH) responded swiftly by saying “the last thing that we need is more polarization”; DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz called Cruz’s statement “a shameful display of hate that only serves to foment anger and make the world less secure.” Without regards to the specifics of Cruz’s policy proposal, there is an implicit anti-police assumption at the core of his detractors’ statements; as police presence increases, communities are worse off. Although this is certainly what movements such as Black Lives Matter would like you to believe, minority communities actually tend to fare worse without a strong and dedicated police force.

The contemporary anti-police movement started roughly in the summer of 2014, following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson. Both the court documents and the Department of Justice concluded that officer Darren Wilson was fully justified in shooting Michael Brown, who had robbed a convenience store and then reached for Wilson’s gun when confronted by police. But alas, the Black Lives Matter movement that spawned from the incident did not care to wait for the facts of the case, but instead focused on the feelings of the affected community.

Within a day of the shooting, the media was widely reporting on the peaceful protests developing in Ferguson. These same “peaceful protestors” would later be responsible for the looting and destruction of small business during the following nights. It would take a citywide curfew and the deployment of the National Guard to restore order. In Nov. 2014, a grand jury would decide to not indict Officer Darren Wilson; Brown’s stepfather would proceed to incite riots by screaming “Burn this bitch down” to a crowd of angry protesters.

Similar movements have since been responsible for a number of heinous acts, all under the guise of acting on behalf of communities polarized by local police departments. In Dec. 2014, NYC protesters took to the streets chanting “What Do We Want? Dead Cops!” In Aug. 2015, anti-cop assailants murdered a police officer in his squad car that was parked in a Minnesota gas station. Hours later, Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets of the Minnesota State Fair chanting “Pigs-in-a-Blanket, fry ‘em like bacon!” at police. The death of Freddie Gray while under the supervision of the Baltimore Police Department sparked more protests turned riots. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake famously refused to have police intervene in the increasingly tense situation, stating she was giving “those who wish to destroy space [the space] to do that as well.” Her decision to not intervene early would cost the city $20 million in property damage. The subsequent slander and allegations of racism towards the mostly minority police department would lead them to decrease police presence in high crime areas out of fear, resulting in the highest murder rate Baltimore has ever seen.

It would appear to be the case that there is a growing frustration in minority communities that is manifesting itself in incendiary ways. But to make such an assessment based upon these reports would be to paint these communities with too broad a brush. Neglected in the media are the stories of the law-abiding citizens who don’t riot; who don’t engage in behaviors that are at odds with basic human decency. And, most importantly, want a strong police presence to keep them safe in their communities.  

In 2015, the Black is Human Campaign released a series of videos entitled “Our Black Boys” to bring attention to gun violence in Chicago. Zarriel Trotter, 12, was featured in one such video pleading, “I don’t want to live around my community where I’ve got to keep on hearing and hearing people keep on getting shot, people keep on getting killed.” A few weeks ago, Zarriel was playing basketball when a stray bullet struck him in the back. Although initially in critical condition, Zarriel is expected to make a full recovery  but others like him aren’t so lucky. According to the Chicago Police Department, in 2013 there were 2,272 people shot in Chicago, of which 420 died. In 2015, these numbers increased to 2,939 and 468, respectively. This year, they are projected to be higher. This trend will only continue to rise if we let it.

In 1994, amidst peak crime rates across the country, President Clinton passed the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act. Most notably, the act introduced the “three-strikes” rule for violent repeat offenders, green lighted the development of more prisons, gave more resources to police departments, and prevented states from reducing sentences by more than 15 percent for violent offenders. Since the passage of the bill, crime has decreased dramatically. Last week, Black Lives Matter protesters criticized Clinton’s bill for incarcerating a high number of non-violent black youth, to which former President Clinton Responded with “I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders that got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent them out onto the street to murder other African-American children . . . You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter.” With regards to this, Clinton is correct. The vast majority of people incarcerated was, and continue to be, violent offenders. Criminals that receive prison time for “possession” often have other charges, have had their charges lowered and classified as “possession” via a plea deal, or are repeat offenders with heavy records.

Often times, we go to the most vocal members of communities to understand life through their perspective, but this can give us an incomplete picture. When these vocal members insist that they are innocents being oppressed by police, yet readily break the law to prove their innocence; we should doubt the validity of their claim. Let’s try listening to the kids who are surrounded by violence, and idolize the police officers that fight to protect them everyday; many of these kids want to be police officers themselves. As the Black is Human Campaign puts it, “They want to protect us. Shouldn’t we protect them?”