The brutal treatment of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, by former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, has sparked protests across the country, as well as calls for abolishing police departments in major cities. Floyd’s tragic death demands that we examine the underlying issues and systemic abuse within some police forces. But defunding the police will only invite more, and bigger, problems.
Instead, we should aim to restore the trust between the black community and the police, and implement commonsense reforms that will make our streets safer and the bonds between the police and our neighborhoods stronger.
Based on my experiences as a pastor and community leader on the south side of Chicago, I propose the following meaningful reforms:
Police officers should strive to become part of the community. My ministry work in one of America’s toughest neighborhoods would produce zero results if we were not fully committed to establishing roots in the community. New Beginnings Church and our urban ministry, Project H.O.O.D. have seen tremendous results—especially with former gang members—because we are seen as a trusted friend and member of the community. The police can draw lessons from our experience. Cops can form better relationships in the black community by actively seeking opportunities to join us in our neighborhoods. Don’t show up just for drug raids. Take part in our community events. Be involved in the schools. Be present and visible for the good moments (and there are plenty such moments in our neighborhoods). Why is it that the only time many on the south side of Chicago see a police officer is when arrests are being made?
Don’t treat the black community as the “enemy.” The ACLU has documented the increase of militarized language in police recruiting materials. We are not at war with the police, despite what the police rhetoric suggests. We are taxpayers and parents. Retool the recruitment language for police so it is not always a stark “us versus them” dichotomy.
Provide more police training in de-escalation. In urban neighborhoods, the last thing we need is a cop intent on ratcheting up the violence or escalating bad situations. Police should shift some of their training to de-escalation. This reform alone would do wonders to establish more trust with the black community.
Require the use of body cameras for police. Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina is taking the lead on the GOP side in crafting police reforms. His entire proposal merits attention, but one idea in particular, the required use of body cameras by police, should have no difficulty garnering broad support. Body cameras worn by the cops have numerous positive effects. Senator Scott’s proposal calls for reducing the grants for law-enforcement agencies in states that fail to punish non-use of body cameras.
Make the police disciplinary records public. One of the positive reforms currently being discussed is releasing the disciplinary records of cops. This reform idea deserves our attention. We have countless public digital databases at our fingertips, with everything from property transactions to licenses of professionals. Why is it so difficult to find out if there are complaints lodged against a police officer? It is worth noting, of course, that Derek Chauvin, the cop who mercilessly kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, had 18 prior complaints lodged against him. What was the nature of those complaints? And why wasn’t he fired along the way? In a society that values transparency, why is it impossible to obtain this information?
Stop rehiring bad cops after they get fired. A sad cycle of abuse has repeated itself across the country. The police unions have, for decades, protected the bad apples in the police force. Even when a cop is fired for misconduct, the system is designed to allow bad cops back into the force. This practice erodes trust and confidence with the black community, and, even more than that, it endangers the good cops—the ones we need and want on our streets.
The black communities in our inner cities are hurting. Decades of neglect, abuse, and systemic racism have turned many of these neighborhoods into urban wastelands. The police departments, in many cases, have offered a case study in what not to do with the black community. From alienating entire communities to creating unnecessary friction and frustrations, the police have created a deep rift with this community.
The good news? The reforms I propose are easy to implement and will have an almost immediate positive effect. When it comes to healing those wounds, the police can study the successful methods of black ministry projects in these communities.
Jesus commands us in Mark 12:31 to love our neighbors as ourselves. The first step is to see others as our neighbors. This simple worldview is the essence of our ministries on the south side of Chicago. And it could be the key to reforming urban police departments.