It’s Time to Talk about Cops

Posted by Jamaal Green on July 25, 2016

I do not need to revisit the hundreds (not to mention the dozens if count recorded encounters) of police killings around this country over the past few years. I think with respect to the readers of Rooflines and many workers in progressive community and economic development institutions around the country that we understand that Black lives do indeed matter and that the country has for far too long insisted on the opposite. But I must admit that I remain incredibly underwhelmed by the responses seen from many community and economic development organizations around this issue because it is actually quite central to our work.

It is clear that many of the most dowtrodden communities in the country, declining mid-size cities in the Rust Belt to the inner cities, and now poor inner ring suburbs of our largest cities, to poor small cities around the country, sufer from aacute governmental  indifference EXCEPT with respect to the deployment of police. Politicians of all stripes decry community violence, but the only response from cities and states is to double down on police funding. The predicatable result is growing our already obscenely large population of people within prison and jail and further abusing communities already suffering from intense violence. Ultimately, already poor communities are made poorer not only due to the indignities of dealing with an occupying force in the police, who manage to be both indifferent to local suffering and feckless in investigating actual crimes, but by the removal of youth and adults from their communites and marking people with having an arrest or incarceration record for life. In some of the most policed areas of the country it is hard not to find an adult who does not have a record of some sort and, of course, this has severe reprecussions for folks' ability to find work and get further education if they choose to do so.

Even in states with "Ban the Box" regulations there is some evidence that employers will simply not hire Blacks or Hispanics instead of "risking" hiring an ex-offender. Of course, the economists call this a mere case of "statistical discrimination" when we should call it what it is--racism. Thus we find that in many areas we can no longer just insist on trying to de-stigmatize those folks who have been caught up in the system, but we must attack the very core of the criminalization of whole communities. The first step in this is we must seriously question the value of the use of police as the ur-response to all of our social ills in contemporary America. Such an apporach literally steals people from the very communities, robs them of their lives, and the abilities to build wealth and education in mainstream institutions because we literally lock out those who have been locked up. This is a vital, and entirely under considered, issue in the larger field of community and economic development, but it is one we must fully embrace.

We must look towards joining explicitly with prison reform and prison abolition groups in demanding not only the reform of prisons but also the reform of policing as we know it. We need to demand policies that go on to limit the exposure people have with the police in marginalized communities and demand funding for alternative institutional responses to police. This means restoring funding for mental health services, funding emergency responses that are independent of police, adequately funding and desegregating our schools, passing Ban the Box legislation, and demanding the de-militarization of police forces. If we truly desire the creation of healthy communities where everyone has the opportunity to truly pursue their best lives, then we can no longer sit idly by and watch the potential of communities be stolen in the night to be locked away.

If Black Lives Matter, then we have to start talking about the cops.

About the author more »

Jamaal Green is a PhD student at Portland State University in the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning studying economic development and equity planning. His specific interests include the intersections of land-use and economic development policy and the role that planning can play in mitigating social and political inequality.

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