On May 18th, President Obama signed an Executive Order, effectively banning the transfer of military equipment by the Federal government, to community police departments.
This is a step in the right direction, and will help to end what has become nothing short of a war between the police, and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.
But during the past week, I have learned something. I know that police militarization is a problem – and it’s one we’ve discussed before on DeafInPrison.com. I also know that the number of shooting incidents involving police on citizens – and police on dogs – has increased exponentially over the past 40 years. Furthermore, these incidents are overwhelmingly racially skewed. Of the total number of civilians shot by police since the year 2000, 75% have been Black.
None of this is news. Simply open a browser, and you’ll be treated to a smorgasbord of carnage and death – almost entirely White police officers on Black civilians.
In many cases, the officers are justified. In others they’re not. But what stands out – regardless of color or race – is the huge number of violent attacks and counterattacks on mentally ill citizens. And this is where I had my epiphany.
The root of the problem is far simpler than the media, or law enforcement itself, would lead us to believe. In the 1980s, President Reagan closed all the federal and state funded mental hospitals. This caused a river of drug addicts, abuse victims, disabled vets, homeless and other mentally ill – with no place to go but the streets. The burden of their care – or at the very least, handling – was shifted from Social Services, to the police.
But police are not trained, or even capable of handling this new responsibility. In the eyes of a cop, you’re either an innocent or a perpetrator. There’s no middle ground, and there are no policies in place for how to deal with any of the other possibilities. Police have one basic skill, and it’s a difficult skill to master – and one that deserves respect. They know how to arrest people. They don’t know how to counsel people. They don’t know how to determine if someone is mentally ill. They don’t know what to do with someone who is. In my years interacting with cops, I’ve seen them do things I never thought possible. I’ve seen a single cop insert himself into a gang rivalry, and prevent a war. I’ve seen cops rescue children from abusive parents. I’ve seen cops rescue animals from abusive owners. But I’ve never seen a cop help a bag lady get her stolen shopping cart back.
In our rush to austerity, we’ve tasked our police forces with the job of handling every social disorder and societal problem, that we’re too cheap to pay for, and they’ve responded the only way they know how – with nightsticks and bullets. Then, we armed them like the Green Berets.
So the fix? Well, it ain’t gonna come cheap. We need to allocate sufficient funds to rebuild the Social Services department, and we need to make a commitment to helping our weakest and most infirm citizens. We need to start taking conditions like PTSD seriously, and make treatment – and even hospitalization – free and readily available. We need to find ways to get our homeless off the streets. We need to end the useless War on Drugs, and develop policies that will help addicts get treatment – not jail.
And, while we obviously can’t disarm our police forces, we need to stop arming them like they’re going to war in Afghanistan – and above all, let them get back to the job they’re supposed to be doing. Protecting us from those who would knowingly violate the social contract. A job they do with handcuffs – not machine guns and street-tanks.
BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.
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