What would happen if we disarmed the police in the United States? How would disarming the police affect police-community relations? These questions are absent from the conversations triggered by the daily examples of police violence against and murder of those the police are hired to serve and protect. I raise these questions now.
I attended a community forum on October 9 in Harlem on “Know Your Rights” and “Police Brutality.” My high expectations were soon shattered by a panel of “experts” – from the National Lawyers Association, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement and state legislators. As the panel of five took the microphone, one by one, they cited the law and the constitutional rights that we as citizens of these United States have and told us how important it was for us to know these rights.
They then went on to give their point of view about what people in poor communities of color should do when confronted by the police. Every last one of these legal beavers said in effect: Don’t be Kunta Kinte; be Toby. They said getting home was the most important priority. While they were serving the audience their expert opinions, I was seething. I thought of all the black men that had surrendered and posed no threat to anyone yet were gunned down with their hands in the air, handcuffed and begging for their lives. And I should not leave out the fact that of the 4,743 lynchings that occurred between 1882 and 1968, blacks accounted for 3,446 of them – nearly 73 percent. It is almost certain that passivity played a role in so many of us being lynched.
When the Q&A began, I couldn’t contain my disappointment and rage at the lack of backbone of these “gatekeepers” and their reiteration of Jim Crow era passivity and compliance. “Let’s resolve our differences in a court of law; let’s assert our rights under the constitution.” I shouted and ranted until they demanded the mic back. I gave it up reluctantly and left.
So when you look at the recruits for the police force attending the police academy, remember that you are seeing children embarking on a career. They have no life experience and few, if any, tools to resolve conflicts or enforce rules and regulations. On completing their training or robotization at the police academy, they are given a gun and a badge and dumped into poor communities of color to “break them in.” In those uniforms are people who have never been in charge of anyone in their life. If citizens resist in any way, the “newbies” immediately resort to force and authority. I see this everyday as I traverse the streets of Harlem. In a routine traffic stop, they approach your car with their hands on their guns.
What If They Had No Guns?
What if all new recruits had to work community patrol without guns? Unimaginable? They have been doing it in Great Britain since the 19th century. According to the BBC, “While some in London were issued with revolvers prior to 1936, from that date only trained officers at the rank of sergeant or above were issued with guns, and even then only if they could demonstrate a good reason for requiring one.”
Trained officers? Is that who we give guns to? Nope, we give guns to everyone on the force regardless of training, emotional stability, maturity or need.
If we are going to end the daily slaughter of black youth in this country, we are going to have to hold the police civilly and criminally liable for all of their actions. And we are going to have to disarm them. To make these things happen, we are going to have to organize all communities of poor people of color, nationwide, to take control of the politics of their neighborhoods and turn them into communities that are under their own control. Lack of organized communities is at the root of all our problems. Let’s come together.