Toxic Atmosphere: The Debate Surrounding Policing

If there was one topic that has been on the minds of many people over the past couple of weeks,  it has got to be policing. I know, it is a very touchy subject, as it involves topics such as the abuse of power, the suffering of minorities, and the irresponsibility of authority figures.

However, there is more to policing than just these aspects. There is a unique history and ethics to policing. Specifically, going all the way back to the year 1636 in Boston, Colonial America first instituted policing in communities. After that year, various cities during the 17th century including New York and Philadelphia soon adopted policing in communities for the purposes of regulating prostitution and prohibition. 

Just as there are various problems surrounding policies in modern society, problems soon arose during the start of policing as so-called “Night Watchers” already caused a stir due to their misbehavior and aggressive nature. However, that did not stop those who were wealthy from escaping convictions and influencing these “Night Watchers” to engage in unlawful crimes.

Furthermore, the system of policing gained economic support as institutions were created to enforce and protect slavery and segregation. While these policing institutions were created all over America, it was particularly in the South, where enslaved Black Americans suffered from physical and psychological abuse by groups of watchmen. 

As Chelsea Hansen writes, “Organized policing was one of the many types of social controls imposed on enslaved African Americans in the South. Physical and psychological violence took many forms, including an overseer’s brutal whip, the intentional breakup of families, deprivation of food and other necessities, and the private employment of slave catchers to track down runaways.” As policing institutions grew and became more of a prevalent force in society, the civil rights of black Americans were targeted more frequently. 

As civil rights are of utmost importance to every American, there has been no reprieve or support when it comes to supporting minorities in need. With paramilitary groups such as the Ku Klux Klan having unlimited power to physically and psychologically torment Black Americans, there was no protection of civil rights for people of color. Despite the eventual creation and passing of famous laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, communities of color continued to be persecuted and murdered in cold blood. 

In recent memory, there have been a disturbing series of people of color who have been murdered by the police: Rodney King, to Freddie Gray, to Philando Castile, and just recently Daunte Wright. While there might have been some satisfaction and relief that Derek Chauvin was convicted after kneeling on George Floyd, the pain and the suffering for Black people and minorities across the country never seems to end.

While to many people there is one side to this story, there exists strong opposition. Despite the list of numerous deaths due to policing in the United States, there is a strong support system refuting attacks on police institutions and officers. In the recent case of Mr. Chauvin’s conviction, there has been the presence of people who not only support him but have been adamant in denouncing the Black Lives Matter movement. Cornell historian Lawrence Glickman was quoted saying that racial equality was “an inexcusable undermining of what they [see] as deserved white privileges and prerogative.” Additionally, donation drives have been created in defense of people who have been convicted of attacking BLM protestors. 

As Kali Holloway writes, “Multiple cops donated money to Kyle Rittenhouse, the white teenager charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., with one police sergeant including a note that read, “You’ve done nothing wrong. Every rank and file police officer supports you.” The strong support of policing and anti-BLM continues to increase as police officers are being convicted for trials of murder and harassment. Both sides to the topic of policing have resulted in the divide and debate over policing as well as the criminal justice system.

Can there be a plausible solution to policing? We have seen both in the country and on this campus how damaging policing can be to communities, especially young people. Specifically according to Dowin Boatright, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Yale, “Those killed by police on average are young people — the average age for all victims is 34. For Black people, the average age is 30. For Hispanics killed, the average age is 33; for Native Americans, 31; and for white people, 38.” 

The numbers don’t lie — policing continues to impact all of us on a daily basis and the violence is never-ending. While there needs to be a massive focus on police reform, there also needs to be a focus on the debate of how much policing can be reformed. There is a strong difference between reform and the abolishment of policing within an institution or community. Policing isn’t just an issue about accountability or reform, it is about whether or not we can entrust select individuals to see lawlessness, stop crime, and save lives.