fresh voices from the front lines of change







What Rudy Giuliani did for New York City as its former mayor, and what Donald Trump promises to do for America, will only make things more dangerous for Americans — both for the police, and for those being policed.

Giuliani’s speech on the opening night of the Republican National Convention — themed “Make America Safe Again” — quickly turned into a rant about Black Lives Matter and the policing of black communities. The speech came a day after three Baton Rouge, La., police officers had been shot and killed and three days after the funeral of Alton Sterling, a black man whose shooting death by police in Baton Rouge sparked a wave of protests.

Claiming to have taken New York City “from the crime capital of America to the safest large city in America,” Giuliani declared, “What I did for New York, Donald Trump will do for America.”

What Giuliani did was appoint William Bratton as chief of police, who then joined Giuliani in putting the “broken windows” theory of policing into practice. “Broken windows” became the basis for the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy, which disproportionately targeted blacks and Latinos, with minimal effect on crime.

Out of four million stop-and-frisk searches in ten years, only one in 10 resulted in criminal charges. Eighty-one percent of those charged were black or Latino. During that era, it was difficult to find black or Latino young men who hadn’t been stopped multiple times under the policy, the same way that Philando Castile was pulled over more than 49 times for minor infractions over 13 years — an average of once every three months – before he was shot and killed by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minn., the same week Sterling died.

Yet, while crime decreased in New York City, Giuliani’s policies had nothing to do with it. Crime dropped nationwide during that time, and New York’s drop was more likely due to the waning of the 1980s crack epidemic, and the growth of the prison population due to drug laws. The only beneficiaries were the for-profit prison industry, and police departments funded by fines and fees charged to the poorest and most vulnerable communities.

The policies Giuliani said made New York City "the safest large city in America," and would make America itself safer, will only result in more deaths like those of Sterling and Castile, but also in attacks like those that killed the police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. In fact, it makes anti-police violence as inevitable as police violence.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates explains, illegitimate policing makes everyone — including the police — less safe, in the same way that Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric makes America less safe. “Wanton discrimination in policy and rhetoric,” Coates writes, “undercuts American legitimacy and fuels political extremism,” and “wanton discrimination is definitional to the black experience,” often implemented by law enforcement. Coates compares the result to “the contempt in which most white Americans hold O.J. Simpson,” and their feelings toward the judge and jury in his case. Only, black Americans have felt that way every few months for generations, as “police officers have been getting away with murdering black people" – as happened with the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland and is happening with the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore –
"since the advent of American policing.”

The injustice builds up like layers of sediment that hardens into rock over the generations, and a tangible, heavy sense of “dread and grievance that compels a community to understand the police as objects of fear, not respect.” In black communities, the police derive their power from the force they deploy, as Coates writes, and not from some high American ideal. That is the danger to the policed. The other danger is that the police are “indistinguishable from any other street gang.” And if that’s so, “then it is certain that someone will resort to the kind of justice typically meted out to all other powers in the street.”

The alternative to Giuliani’s vision was seen in Wichita, Kan., this weekend, where a Black Lives Matter protest against police violence turned into a barbecue, and an opportunity for Black Lives Matter activists, community members, and police officers to break bread together. A diverse group of nearly 1,000 Wichitans came out to the “First Steps Cookout” to meet with police chief Gordon Ramsay. The event was going to be a march, until Ramsay met with community activists after a peaceful protest. Activist Djuan Wash said the event was the culmination of a two-year campaign that resulted in the establishment of a citizens review board, and cultural competency and diversity training for officers. At the cookout, Ramsay announced that officers would equipped with body cameras.

The whole nation must take similar first steps to build “the kind of equitable society in which police force is used as sparingly as possible” if we are to avoid seeing more Alton Sterlings and Philando Castiles, and more violence against police as in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

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