Race-Based Policing

Bill Ong Hing (University of San Francisco – School of Law) has posted From Ferguson to Palestine: Disrupting Race-Based Policing (Howard Law Journal, Vol. 59, 2016 (Forthcoming)) on SSRN.

Here is the abstract:

Since Michael Brown’s killing, “Ferguson” has become the battle cry of embattled black communities targeted by over-policing and activists protesting racist policing. The battle cry has been all too important, unfortunately, as more than a dozen other police on black shootings occurred over the next several months. The story has become all too familiar. A traffic stop or a call about someone acting out. The target might answer respectfully, blandly, or with some attitude. He or she might sprint to escape, sit still, or glance away with attitude. Whatever the trigger, the cop’s violent reaction can end with another unarmed black man or woman shot in the head.

This article is based on an understanding that police in many parts of the country often are guilty of abusing their authority in a racist manner. The over-policing of African American communities in many respects can be traced to the “broken windows” model of policing. The model focuses on the importance of disorder (e.g. broken windows) in generating and sustaining more serious crime. The problem is that this approach has evolved into a zero-tolerance mentality in the cop-on-the-street, manifested in constant harassment of young black males.

Another problem is Urban Shield, a controversial law enforcement training and weapons expo held in Alameda County every year, where companies that make military-style weaponry market their products to local police and fire departments. Urban Shield is coordinated by the Urban Areas Security Initiative, a key program in the extreme militarization of police departments seen in Ferguson, Baltimore, and many other black communities nationwide. In short, Urban Shield also inculcates law enforcement officials with a hard core enforcement mentality.

Broken windows policing and Urban Shield represent disruptions in how police work is done. Disruption (a term we may be more familiar with in the technology world) literally uproots and changes how we think, behave, do business, learn and go about our day-to-day. The question for us today is whether we can offer disruptive alternatives to policing that offer real public safety in a manner that is not racist.

Black Lives Matter and others are working on disruptive alternatives to create true community policing that is about public safety for all. Their rebellious method of organizing recognizes that meaningful, lasting change can only come about through collaboration with allies with common goals and experiences. Working with the labor movement, immigrant rights groups, Latino and Asian American organizations, and pro-Palestinian leaders represents a strong foundation for collective change. What are the disruptive approaches that will result? More civilian monitoring of the police? Training civilians to be first responders? Better training of police officers in de-escalation techniques? Better integration of police forces? Or something much more innovative and unconventional that is yet to be described?

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