The Policing Controversy, Part Two

Police Officers or Peace Keepers?

 Police violence against child

In my last post, (, I said:

The police have often (not always) become an “occupying” force for some elements of our population bringing harsh consequences for minor misbehavior while protecting not only the lives and property of the upper and middle classes, but shielding them from facing the consequences of illegal activity – especially in the case of their children.  (See below for documentation.) And of course, there is the problem many of us have with the increase of military type equipment in our police departments.

What should the role of the police be?

First, maybe we need to stop calling them “police officers.” I think what we call ourselves makes a difference in how we behave. They are sometimes referred to as “peace officers”, a term first used in 1649.  If they see themselves as spreading peace, rather than as catching villains, they might not be as ready to see others as villains.

And maybe we shouldn’t use the word “officers” which has a military edge to it. According to Wikipedia, “An officer is a person who has a position of authority in a hierarchical organization.” We’re supposed to be a democracy, not a “hierarchy”.

How about “peace keepers”?

Newark Police Department detective Michelle Cote, left, lets 4-year-old Kevin Maresca wear her cap during a visit to Ironbound Community Corp Preschool, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, has partnered with PSEG to develop "Let's Get Ready: Planning Together for Emergencies" and "Here For Each Other: Helping Families After Emergencies" emergency preparedness and response initiatives in English and Spanish. These apps will help families talk with their children about preparing and dealing with emergencies. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Second, we must insist that our “peace keepers” have training in non-violent approaches to people with special needs.  Far too many people with special needs have been killed by police when there was no need.

Third, we must educate our “peace keepers” in the cultures of people from all the different ethnicities that make up our communities.  Yes, ethnic studies.

And fourth, let’s make their uniforms less intimidating and more friendly.  During the 1960’s when I attended my first protest march in Berkeley, the Berkeley police wore khaki uniforms.  They lined the march, but seemed friendly and protective.  We got to the Oakland border and the police were wearing black uniforms and swinging bully clubs.  To me, at 22 years old, they were very frightening.  If the police are working for us, they should not appear frightening to us.

We spend lots of time teaching our police how to shoot a gun, how to physically restrain people, ramping up their adrenal reactions to situations, and very little time training them how to approach a situation slowly and calmly, how to read the body language of people with a different cultural background than their own, and yes, how to take the “flight” reaction rather than the “fight” one when faced with “flight or fight” situations.  Simply moving to a protected place from which to negotiate with someone who is out of control rather than shooting them seems much more logical to me.

Our jails are full of people with mental illness. Why are they there instead of in institutions designed to help them? Our jails are full of very young men who behaved stupidly, as teenagers of all races and ethnicities are apt to do.

Interesting that black and brown boys are in jail, and the white ones released to their parents. The police are the first in line to effect this, often taking kids down to the station and calling their parents. Judges, of course, are second in line here giving probation or community service to white boys and jail to black kids.  (See corroborating articles listed below.)

Who wants to be a police officer?  It would be interesting to interview various officers to find what drew them to policing? There are many good officers out there. Why did they join?

We also know that there are many who join because they want the power and the gun. These folks need to be weeded out. Our “peace keepers” need to cease being a symbol of authoritarian power and start being a symbol of someone who can help – for all peoples, not just the wealthy and the white.

Please feel free to add your suggestions on policing in the comments or on my posting of this article on Facebook or Twitter.  My next post will continue the discussion.

Helpful references:

Black kids get harsher sentences: *

The original meaning of the word “police” was “policy.”  How did it move from “policy” to meaning “the regulation and control of a community”?

In my novel, The Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet, there is a world wide protest movement.  At one of the marches the Earth Woman Tree Woman challenges the police to become a part of the movement.  In this mystical fantasy, humans are trying to rejoin the Tsin Twei, the dance of life, where all the species on earth (except one…) dance together in order to have a compassionate understanding of all their needs.

You can order print versions from Powell’s Books or your local independent bookstore, or purchase print and ebook versions at Amazon and Barnes and Noble
Quartet EbookCover

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