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The Need for Renewed Social Trust while Reimagining the Police

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Black Lives Matter Protest. Photo credit: Clay Banks
Articles
June 24, 2020

Hana Geadah is a 2020 Social Connectedness Fellow working with Partners in Health Liberia to analyze the impact of the household model in Liberia on the communities’ well-being, health and sense of social connectedness. Hana has long been interested in the efficacy of health care and is dedicated to the realization of anti-oppressive policy at the community and structural levels.

The last few weeks have been marked by mass protests in response to extreme police brutality against Black people. Despite years of pressure on police to engage in mandatory anti-racist and non-lethal trainings, police across the United States continue to kill Black people at disproportionate rates. Amidst cries to defund the police, we must examine what constitutes “crime” and how we can feel safe and address wrongdoings in ways that are equitable and sustainable.

The current system of policing is clearly not working for Black or poor people, but if we dig a little deeper, we see that it is also not working for police themselves or for American taxpayers.

Although police departments regularly receive increased funding year after year, communities that are highly policed often do not feel safe, especially with heightened police presence, and communities that have minimal police presence typically already feel safe. In terms of reducing crime, the suppression of crime in one district often moves those actions to the next jurisdiction, rather than stopping the crime altogether.

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Source: Bloomberg

Following the Ferguson unrest in 2014 and a massive Black Lives Matter movement, a new approach to policing called “community policing” emerged. This rests on a relationship of trust between police and the communities in which they work. While this approach is wise to recognize that trust is needed to have safe communities, it fails to acknowledge the fact that police alone cannot solve social problems.

Police are human, just like the rest of us. So, what happens when they are part of a force that is complicit in extreme acts of racism, or even when they go about a regular day at work?

Cops are taught to fear for their lives from their first days on the job, and they can be sent into multiple high stress situations a day. That kind of stress and fear would take a toll on anyone and is rarely healthy or sustainable without adequate support. Nobody is immune to fear, shame, or guilt, and taking the life of someone else, even if in self-defense, does not come easily.

There is an urgent need for a change in policing – for the wellbeing of all parties involved. We must reimagine what our public safety systems can look like.

Of the 10.3 million arrests a year, only five percent are related to violent crimes. To reprimand individuals for “quality of life crimes,” such as urinating in public or loitering, does not address the root of these social problems. Rather, it blames the individual for not overcoming extreme hardships without any support. Considering these actions as crimes only puts these individuals at further risk, and is an inefficient use of time, energy, and funds that could be redirected to social programs instead.

When considering what keeps a community safe, responses highlight good social services and community engagement. With higher trust between all stakeholders, there may be less incentive to rely on police, more incentive to help one another, and a higher belief that individuals can and will do better when given the proper resources. 

If someone has an addiction to an illegal substance, we could direct them to a rehabilitation program, instead of putting them in jail where they would likely not get the treatment they need. In violent situations, we could send people trained in de-escalation techniques to minimize harm, and then make sure that the person who has tried to harm others is held accountable for their actions and can commit to doing better in the future.

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Photo Credit: Steve Carrera

When community members feel socially connected they are more likely to engage with one another and youth are more likely to look up to their elders, reducing their engagement with unhealthy behaviors. Currently, the NYPD alone receives the same amount of funding as youth services, housing preservation and development services, health services, and homeless services combined. This funding could be redirected to social services that strengthen the social contract and foster a sense of social responsibility, simultaneously minimizing the conditions that promote crime and disincentivizing individuals to commit crimes. 

Hollow Water First Nation, in Manitoba, has successfully implemented community-based justice systems. They explain that it is crucial that they “support, assist, and/or hold accountable all the parties of the victimization,” and that “as long as incarceration is seen as the solution, the community will not be a safe place.” Research has shown that their healing process has improved the trust and resilience of their community, thus it bears asking: why not implement something similar in our own communities?

Fostering trust, connectedness, and the belief that all humans are equally deserving, can both change our definition of what crime is and can alleviate the conditions that lead individuals to engage in harmful behaviors.

Each of us has a role to play by informing ourselves about alternative community justice systems and learning how to build connectedness in our own communities.

To learn more about what community justice systems can look like, refer here:

To learn more about what you can do to build connectedness in your community, refer here: