Let’s Shift the Policing Paradigm from Occupation to Protection—with our Voices and Ideas in the Wake of Jordan Edwards Shooting Death
By Yulise Waters, Esq., 10th Episcopal District
The angst that flushed through me after learning of Jordan Edwards’ shooting death by a Balch Spring officer’s rifle Saturday night settled into resignation as I thought about my son, age 10. I still have to let him go out the door. We can’t keep him in the house and sheltered from it all.
Another as-yet-unexplainable death of a black boy has black parents throughout the Dallas area wondering how to keep their children from being added to the growing list: Tamir Rice of Cleveland, Laquan McDonald of Chicago, and Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri. Let’s not forget the child murder that inaugurated this tragic season: Trayvon Martin, who was not murdered by a cop but a wannabe. Add to that list, countless black men and women caught at the wrong end of a policeman’s weapon and good judgment.
As our city searches for answers and justice while mourning the Mesquite High School freshman, the impulse to throw up our hands and vow never to trust the police is a mighty impulse. Nevertheless, shifting the policing paradigm from occupation to protection of our most precious assets, our children, can’t happen without our voices, tenacity, energy, experience, and intellect.
Often the solutions don’t stand up to the challenge, further entangling an already complex situation. Further, events like the deadly ambush of five Dallas police officers last summer weaken dialogue with a police force that must watch its own officers’ backs while watching ours.
Beyond Dallas, police-community relations keep taking hits. Tulsa officer Betty Shelby, who shot and killed a 40-year-old black man with his hands up, claims she’s the victim. Shelby clearly doesn’t get it but she’s not wholly wrong. She is a victim of the systematic, structural racism embedded in our country that influences our perceptions and—therefore—our realities.
I cringe at calls for community policing to treat the senseless loss of black and brown lives and insurmountable distrust of officers. Instances of police-civilian violence nationally have prompted police to re-emphasize community-oriented policing models to address deteriorated or nonexistent partnerships between police and minority residents. Yet, spending time with community members does not a partnership make.
While police agencies are keen on this model, implementation lacks one very important ingredient: repairing the breach of trust. Without honest, authentic human engagement and acknowledgment of past failures, community policing treats symptoms rather than root causes by prioritizing relationship over partnership and damage control over reconciliation.
The collaborative police partnerships often fail to acknowledge the great trust divide. From the community’s perspective, lackluster response to 911 calls, frequent stops of vehicles and people for real or perceived disorderly behavior, enforcement of draconian drug laws that disproportionately affect ethnic minorities, and shootings by police that rarely result in a reprimand or criminal charges all support the distrust. As we have witnessed across the country, community distrust of police erodes the legitimacy of the institution itself.
Likewise, people must understand what it is like for the officers to wake up in the morning and leave their families, not knowing if they will return. Each day police gird themselves with bullet-proof vests, Tasers, handguns, and handcuffs and get into their company vehicles equipped with cameras, computers, dispatch radios, rifles, and transport cages for backseat travel. Simply getting dressed for work is a reminder of their mortality.
Police too need to understand the courage it takes to wake up in urban communities that are unofficial hosts of the byproducts of big business waste: food deserts saturated with violence, drug abuse, prostitution, substandard housing, homelessness, and joblessness. In these communities, the very environment creates constant psychological and physiological stressors. Encounters with officers often feel less like protection and more like a police state.
Dallas’ motto is “Together we do it better.” Yet, we are not. I am reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fourth book, Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or Community? In Dallas, we must answer this question. Will we retreat to our opposing corners and build walls of justification for our actions and reason away their consequences or will we have the difficult conversations about systemic, structural racism in our community?
Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber said Monday, “If there’s something to be learned here, we can all learn it together and move forward together and find solutions how to fix what the problem is.” I couldn’t agree more. First, however, we must bury Jordan.
Yulise Waters, Esq., is a community prosecutor in the Dallas City Attorney’s Office and co-founder and lead planner of the Second Chance Community Improvement Program Court. Find her on Twitter @YuliseWatersEsq. This piece was originally published by the Dallas Morning News.