Police reform should include a commitment to serve Black neighborhoods

OPINION: Most Black Americans don’t want to 'abolish the police,' they want police to respectfully protect and serve their communities

A NYPD officer prepares to arrest protesters for breaking the citywide 8:00PM curfew on June 4, 2020 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

I bought a house recently. Through hard work, blood, sweat and a few tears, I was able to buy a home in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

The neighborhood is full of joy and jubilance; and like most Black communities, the excitement can sometimes extend well into the night. I’ve been there. A friend gets a new car, breaks up with their significant other, etc., and I’d find myself outside on the stoop trading stories and libations past sunup. 

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That was my 20s, when bouncing back from an all-nighter took no effort and hangovers were cured with fast food. I’m in my 30s now, with a proper bedtime, and need eight hours of sleep to function. So, I listened to a group enjoy themselves as the hours ticked by before eventually glaring at my phone and wondering if the noise couldn’t be solved with a quick call to a non-emergency line. 

My mind went through the arduous step-by-step process of the wills and mights and probablys that occur when police are called. Officers will come to my street. They might politely ask the group to break it up and go home to sleep. They’ll probably escalate the situation. 

Seattle Police Dismantle Occupied Protest Zone, Arrest Protestors
Police officers block a street as city crews dismantle the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) area outside of the Seattle Police Department’s vacated East Precinct on July 1, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

It’s a thought process many people of color have repeatedly exercised. Call the police and they start patrolling the neighborhood. Everything escalates. Tensions run high and walking out in sweatpants and a hoodie to get the mail means you or your family could be seen as a threat. 

White people don’t deal with this. They call the police with an understanding that most likely their life and the lives of those around them will be protected. I’m sure that’s what Atatiana Jefferson’s neighbor thought when they called a non-emergency number after seeing her front door open. What that neighbor didn’t anticipate was that the police officer would shoot Atatiana through her front window, killing her. But that was what I thought about as I stared at my phone. 

It’s not as simple as saying “abolish” or “defund” the police. In fact, 69% of Black Americans are okay with a police presence in their communities. They just want the police to work the same for them as they do for their white counterparts.

Members of the Chicago police department scuffle with an angry crowd at the scene of a police involved shooting in Chicago, on Saturday, July 14, 2018. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune via AP)

A recent Gallup poll showed that fewer than one in five Black Americans felt very confident that the police in their area would treat them with courtesy and respect. That’s not a statistic in white neighborhoods. They get Officer Friendly in their schools, communities and local events. Mistakes of excessive force and shootings don’t happen.

However, Black Americans witness deceased loved one’s names being turned into hashtags. We live with the fear that our children aren’t safe playing in a park or walking home at night. We endure the daily trauma of not knowing if we will make it through the day because of systemic ingrained bias toward people of color.

Black Americans don’t want to burn the system down and dance on its ashes; we want it to work for us! We don’t want over-policing in the streets or double standards in response and treatment from law enforcement. We know what the result of these forms of policing are: they lead to ex-NFL player Desmond Marrow with an officer’s hands wrapped around his throat, to Brittney Gilliam and four children fearing for their lives in an Aurora parking lot when officers accosted them with guns drawn, to Compton Mayor Aja Brown and her family getting pulled over, surrounded by umpteenth police vehicles, and searched like criminals for allegedly running a red light.

Compton Mayor Aja Brown thegrio.com
Compton Mayor Aja Brown (Credit: Mayor Brown)

This is modern day policing for Black Americans that has prompted the phrase “while Black” to be splashed across the Internet. What Black Americans have now is policing that doesn’t work. We are unable to call the police because of the very real safety concern for ourselves and our communities. It is why the defund movement has gained momentum. We understand how we got here.

However, many Black Americans don’t want the total defunding of police departments, but a reallocation of funds. There is no reason that a small-town sheriff’s office needs military grade equipment. Those funds should go toward counselors, nurses, and social workers. We know if kids have social workers they are less likely to commit crimes; so it stands to reason that if our society invests in communities, instead of militarized police departments, we would have spaces for groups to meet and laugh well into the night without keeping their neighbors from sleep. Everyone would be safe, respected, served and protected without the threat of violence. 

In this June 7, 2020, file photo, Alondra Cano, a City Council member, speaks during “The Path Forward” meeting at Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP, File)/Star Tribune via AP)

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Many white communities in America have this system. We know it works. But it is failing us. Black Americans often don’t call the police because we understand that there is something inherently wrong with policing in America. I should be able to call the police without it being indicative of a larger, systemic problem. I should be able to reach for my phone, dial a non-emergency number, and have officers come to my neighborhood and courteously ask a group to return to their homes or go to another area. I should be able to end my thought process on a phone without remembering the worst-case scenarios. I should be able to sleep without having a crisis of conscience brought on by repeated trauma. 

I want to be able to rely on the police, feel safe calling the police as a new homeowner and firm believer in the American Dream. We, as Americans, pay taxes, elect sheriffs, and have coffee chats with our police departments because we believe the concept of policing is inherently just. The current execution, however, is corrupted and must change. Most Black Americans don’t want to “abolish the police,” they want police to respectfully protect and serve their communities.

Richard Fowler is the youngest syndicated progressive and/or African-American radio host in the United States. Fowler is a Fox News Contributor, Chairman of the Center, Black Equity Leadership Council  and a Senior Fellow at the New Leaders Council. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @Richardafowler.

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