It's Broken. Now How Do We Fix It?

If the first step is admitting you have a problem, then the second is addressing it. If we're serious, if we're really really serious about working to slow down the rate of violent crime in some of our more dangerous cities, then we as a country need to start looking at some changes to make without being too pollyannaish about it.

  1. More Outreach Programs - Outreach programs, aimed more so to youth, will help forge relationship's with local officers that the community's can look to build on. Consider it an investment on the community and, in turn, making a cop's job potentially easier and safer. It's much more difficult to dehumanize each other, from either side of the aisle, when you have a familiarity with that person.

  2. More Community Policing - As outreach programs would seek to do, more beat cops, or community policing, would help to forge relationships with those that live there. A study concluded to "suggest that community policing can have a favorable impact on the perceptions of police officers and neighborhood residents."1 And at this point, what does it hurt to try and improve everyone's perceptions here?!

  3. More Extensive Training - Some states require more hours of training for other professions, not tasked with the public's safety, than to be a police officer. In fact, the states of California and Florida mandate less than half the minimum-hour requirements to be a cop than to become a licensed cosmetologist or interior designer, respectively. Missouri, owner of the number 1 homicide city, per capita, in the U.S. in 2015, requires under 1,000 hours of training to act as an officer; wholly less than the 1,500 hours it takes to be a barber.2

  4. Demilitarization of Local Police Departments - Local police departments operating with weaponized vehicles, grenade launchers and bayonets don't exactly scream out Serve and Protect, does it? In a complex issue where it's difficult for both sides to trust each other, it's often a perception rather than a reality that escalates matters. And rolling out Army gear to shut down a protest gives off exactly that wrong perception. A kind of Us vs. Them perception.

On the economic side of this, violent crime and unemployment rates tend to correlate. Of the top 20 most dangerous U.S. cities in 2015,3 as per the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting, not a single city finished the year with a median unemployment rate lower than that of the national average of 5%. Top 20 cities like Detroit, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Newark, Washington D.C., Memphis, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Chicago all saw at least tens of thousands more than the country average of their own residents go without work. St. Louis, which lead the list of U.S. cities with the highest homicide rate per capita, only saw a decline in homicides in the final couple months of the year when there was a decline in the unemployment rate.

As with unemployment rates; poverty levels, too, trend with violent crime. Damn near half of Detroit's entire population (over 40%) survived 2015 earning under $20,000. For a family of four. That's well under the national poverty line. And then, sometimes, average income of a given city doesn't tell the whole story. Sometimes, a city is divided by the nice area and the.. not so nice area. A Bloomberg News study4 evaluated the most unequal major U.S. cities; basing their findings on those with the highest concentrations of people living in the highest and lowest levels of the income spectrum, with basically no room for an in-between for a middle class. Major cities Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. all found themselves on the list of largest income inequalities.

“The median household income of black households in St. Louis is $31,200, compared to $61,200 for white households,”5 The unemployment level for blacks in the St. Louis labor force is 2.8 times higher than it is for whites, which puts St. Louis eighth-highest in that category. In Baltimore, second on the list of cities with the highest homicide rate per capita, blacks have a median household income of $33,610, compared to a $60,550 median household income for whites.

"It is concluded that poverty and income equality are each associated with violent crime"6. Rather than file this under the title of 'no shit', it's important to show the data to support the feelings. Once the issue is proven and identified, only then can you best tackle it. Jobs, companies and opportunities left these cities, leaving a void and a desperation to make a living. Re-evaluate the relationships cops have with their communities, and vice versa, and bring back economic opportunities there if our government is serious about reducing violent crime in our most dangerous cities. Until then, the cycle continues.

"Because crime is more likely to flourish when disorder or lawlessness is the prevalent norm, those who wish to control crime should focus on regulating the social dynamics that create community norms."7

1. An Inside Look at Community Policing Reform: Definitions, Organizational Changes, and Evaluation Findings

2. http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/28/us/jobs-training-police-trnd/

3. http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/most-dangerous-cities-in-the-united-states.html

4.https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-05/miami-is-the-newly-crowned-most-unequal-city-in-the-u-s

5.http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/st-louis-region-still-among-worst-in-nation-for-black/article_815c05d5-38bc-5271-ad45-79ef9b0c96e5.html

6. https://depts.washington.edu/eqhlth/pages/academic_resources/paperD14.html

7. Tracey L. Meares & Dan M. Kahan, Law and (Norms of) Order in the Inner City, 32 L. & SOC'Y REV. 805, 806 (1998) [hereinafter Meares & Kahan, Order in the Inner City].

I Made Up Your Mind

How the Media, the Narrative and the "Good Cops" are Just as Much to Blame as the Bad Cops

1. On April 29th, 2017, Roy Oliver, an officer that served in an Iraqi war that has left 1 in every 5 of their veterans crippled with PTSD, was involved in a fatal shooting this evening. A war that begun under the false pretenses of weapons of mass destruction and subjected our serviceman and servicewoman to nightmarish events, killed the 15 year old with a single shot to the head.

2. On August 9th, 2014, Darren Wilson, an officer transferred from a precinct so prejudice it had to be shut down by its city council amidst massive public backlash and investigations revealing very clear department-wide targeting of a specific community, was involved in a fatal shooting tonight in Ferguson, Missouri. Responding to a call, the slain teenager had reportedly fit the description of an earlier store robbery. The victim: formerly of the targeted community the officers' former precinct so infamously used to be a part of. 

Darren Wilson - courtesy of Salon.com

Darren Wilson - courtesy of Salon.com

3. On November 23rd, 2014, Timothy Loehmann, the dishonest officer once deemed to have "an inability to emotionally function" by his prior police department, had his shooting a day prior of a 12 year old boy officially turn fatal today. The officer, in addition to being deemed 'not emotionally functional', was also reportedly insubordinate and untruthful to his former supervisor.

4. On February 26th, 2012, George Zimmerman, a self-proclaimed community watchdog with a dark and aggressive past, was involved in a fatal shooting this evening. After repeatedly being directed to stop following the victim by dispatch, he disregarded and pursued anyway. The man arrested years earlier for "resisting arrest with aggression", has also had a restraining order placed against him by his former fiancé for domestic violence. George had also been reported to have put in 46 separate calls to the local police department for suspicious activity involving members of the same community as the victim. Despite all of this, he was not detained at the scene of the crime.

A 2005 mug shot of George Zimmerman - courtesy of theragblog.blogspot.com

A 2005 mug shot of George Zimmerman - courtesy of theragblog.blogspot.com

5. On October 20th, 2014, Officer Jason Van Dyke responded to a call just before 10:00 p.m. Continuing a disturbing trend that is potentially extremely biased towards a specific ethnic background, that community saw another fall victim to a police shooting tonight. Chicago, a city with a historic reputation for police scandals, has amassed the most fatal shootings of any U.S. city over the last four year span, now standing at a staggering 70 police killings. 66% of those fatally shot were of the same ethnicity as tonight's victim, leading to high levels of mistrust and poor relations between the community and their police department. Backing up several other officers, multiple shots were fired and the victim left unresponsive.

Down below will be the corresponding facts to the theoretical headlines that could drastically change your perception of the unfolding events, if the media wanted to.  Typically, the first things you hear and what you hear most will have the most profound impact on your memory and perception. That's the power of the narrative and wording.

Yet an officer's past is never questioned. Questionable or not. The local and national media as a regular practice assume to paint the slain black male as someone that brought it upon themselves. If the roles were reversed and the backgrounds of the officers in question were released when controversies occurred (or at least just as much as the victims' seem to be), the public may have a completely different view about our country's black community and their relationship with law enforcement. Instead, these were examples of just 5 more male members of the black community gunned down while not possessing a gun (or in 12 year old Tamir Rice's case, not having a toy gun not prohibited under his state law).

The way the game starts is right after the shooting happens. The victim is ID'd. Calls are made for fellow cops to start digging up background dirt or character spin on the person. After some dirt is dug up, it's anonymously leaked to their favorite local media outlet. From there, they let the media handle their dirty work. Happens all the time. Often times before all the facts are out and able to be digested. And it's done to set the narrative. 

1. 15 year old Jordan Edwards was shot and killed after leaving a party. The initial press release from the Balch Springs, Texas Police Department was that Jordan was driving in reverse aggressively at the shooting officer and he felt threatened. That statement was walked back by Police Chief Jonathan Haber after released body cam video proved that was not the case, and that the teenager was driving away from the cop car.

2. Michael Brown conveniently had only partial footage released about him allegedly stealing from a local store shortly after he was killed by Officer Darren Wilson. The full video was released years later, to much less media coverage, proving this not to be the case. Darren Wilson's former precinct, Jennings, Missouri, was shut down by the city council in 2011 because of rampant levels of racism and high amounts of social tension. The last of the 6 and fatal shot to Michael Brown was made execution style, indicating that the officer was over the victim as the shot went through the top of his skull. The Ferguson Police Department also walked back the officer's initial claims that he stopped Michael Brown and his friend in the street that night because they fit the description of a potential store robbery, after it became clear that Wilson had no knowledge of any potential robbery or footage before approaching the two teenagers that night.

3. Not even a full 24 hours after 12 year old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by cops for playing in the park with a toy gun, the local media ran with stories of his mother's past drug use and his father's past domestic violence. This as justification in shooting an unarmed black boy before he even got to junior high school. The cop, Timothy Loehmann, lied on his Cleveland Police Department application after already having a history of lying and insubordination, at his former precinct. Deputy chief Jim Polack of Timothy's prior precinct, Independence, Ohio, said his handgun performance was "dismal" and that he was "distracted and weepy" and uncommunicative during firing range training. An internal memo recommended he be terminated, and he resigned less than a week later. Only to resurface and be hired by the Cleveland Police Department 15 months later.

4. A suggestive photo of a threatening 18 year old Trayvon Martin in a hoodie spread all over the news networks immediately after his death. That, along with an apparent past marijuana use, was used to shape the way any and all information following it would be perceived. George Zimmerman had put in 46 separate calls to the local department involving suspicious activity involving black males. He was told repeatedly to step down by dispatch and that an actual law enforcement officer is on his way. This, along with his lengthy record of aggression, meant nothing as he was not even arrested at the scene of the crime.

Trayvon Martin - courtesy of Abcnews.go.com

Trayvon Martin - courtesy of Abcnews.go.com

5. Laquan McDonald was shot and killed by those multiple bullets walking away from an officer. It was reported as nothing more than another black teen gang member killed in the streets of Chicago at the time. It wasn't until it was evident video would be released more than a year later that the precinct backtracked on Officer Van Dyke's claims that a single shot was fired and that the victim was supposedly coming at him. In reality, 16 shots were fired within seconds of Officer Van Dyke leaving his squad car with 7 other officers around him. All 7 of those cops corroborated Van Dyke's lies to protect their brother.

The culture is to protect your own. And in a profession where things can be real dangerous and can get real ugly real fast, that mantra can be understandable at times. Most times officers are out on a island, responding to calls in potentially hostile environments. And there are plenty of good cops out there that do their job, do it well, serve their community, and don't protect bad cops. And to them I say thank you. We need more cops like you.

But when you knowingly protect or look away from a racist fellow officer committing a crime or, worse, a murder, you're part of the problem. In fact, you're even worse, because you're masquerading as one of the good ones enabling the hateful ones, paid to protect and serve our communities while putting our lives at risk. Betraying all of our trust while leading us to believe you're not a 'bad apple'. And it's part of the reason cops are sometimes painted with a broad brush of negativity within some communities. The culture of shielding dangerous officers at all costs needs to stop if we want the communities to trust our cops, and, in turn, have our cops be able to start seeing some of our communities less as generalized threats in all situations and more on a case by case basis.

"The bad apples are ruining it for the good cops." It's what you hear all the time. But here's the truth. Those that knowingly enable bad behavior are culpable and responsible. In the judicial world, it's called aiding and abetting. In the world of policing, it's far too often considered: protecting your own.

Hordes of cops across this country would leave themselves open to charges of aiding and abetting dirty, racist, murderous colleagues if killing an unarmed black man was charged the same way as walking around with a dimebag was.

Special Thanks to Editor Salina Lebron