When the conversations surrounding the Michael Brown and and Eric Garner cases were at their strongest late last year, Shelterforce conducted a survey, asking our readers how they felt about the relationship between law enforcement and the communities in which they work and live.
The answers we received ran the spectrum, from “Police presence is always a good thing,” to police interaction is “one of our biggest areas of calls, complaints from people seeking help.” But what was most interesting were the responses in the middle from the large number of people working in community development who said they need and appreciate the protection police provide to residents, but have seen firsthand the sometimes unequal and unfair treatment their constituents receive in their dealings with police. The majority of respondents said they felt “conflicted” about the police’s presence in their neighborhood/service area.
“The police can be the first point of contact for a person needing help. They can also be the worst nightmare for people experiencing homelessness.”
“We’ve witnessed unlawful policing right in front of our community center, but we have also called the police when fights broke out in our neighborhood.”
“Police are critical to community safety. However many of our residents do not feel protected or served by police and are often reluctant to interact with police in any way which often leads them to feel forced to take the law into their own hands which is very different from community policing.” –Evelyn B., Cleveland
“Community desires a police presence for safety as much as they are weary of it.” —Dolores Barrett, Orange County
There was a nearly even split among respondents who said that police violence affected their work (46 percent said it did; 34 percent said it did not).
“I am a fair housing advocate and I see police violence and racial profiling as an issue that impacts housing choice. African American parents of teen age boys are concerned about moving into predominantly white neighborhoods because their sons are likely to be stopped and harassed.” —Stella Adams
“We are in community development and gentrification is a big issues [sic], when bad cops are in the news people do not want to come to public meetings or feel that development is for ‘others’.”
“Makes it harder for folks in lower-income communities to pay attention to education and economic development.”
The feelings of conflict, however, have not stopped people from speaking out and taking action.
A few respondents said their organizations had taken steps to educate local law enforcement about the community through cultural sensitivity training and crisis intervention training, while others had formed neighborhood watch groups and other programs that encourage and involve increased police presence. And then there were respondents whose groups engaged in both demonstrations against police violence and proactive interaction with their community’s law enforcement.
“Funded gun buybacks, special police walking patrols, the initiation of Ceasefire program in our city and continue to send staff to work with them.”
“We work with local police and sheriff’s offices in all of our communities to set up crime watch programs.” –Rod S.
“Criminal justice reform at all levels, from litigation ( e.g. a lawsuit against the state police to stop racial profiling with regard to highway stops and searches, lawsuit against the city to stop zero tolerance arrests without sufficient cause) to negotiation of school discipline policies that set kids on a course toward involvement in criminal justice system to legislation to end the death penalty. Issue reports on relevant topics such as racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws in African American communities. One of our biggest programs is ‘Know Your Rights’ training offered statewide to communities impacted by police abuse.”
Shelterforce thanks everyone who took a moment to complete the survey and give us a window into their experiences. Lessons can be learned, even from a small, unscientific survey; especially that when strategies are working, we should share them. Steve Lockwood of the Frayser CDC in Memphis said:
“We work in a community much like Ferguson, but the police force is totally different—it reflects the population and spends a lot of energy building relationships in the neighborhood. Our political structure, while deeply flawed, also reflects the Memphis community.”
(Photo credit: Flickr user C. Holmes, CC BY-NC 2.0)