This article is written in honor of a close friend and football teammate, Henry Peeler (Pete) who was killed in the line of duty during his rookie year as a police officer on June 5, 1968. In fact it happened the same night and around the same time that Robert Kennedy was shot in Los Angeles during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Do police serve and protect the black communities? Or do police concentrate on “enforcement” efforts only in black urban centers and “protective” efforts in mainly white communities? These provocative questions must be addressed because 37 years since Peeler’s death, the credibility gap between police and black communities has closed very little. In spite of more technology and new strategies in use, more diversity training in human relations, “CAPS” a new program to get more “involvement” between the “them” and “us” attitude of the past, the hate, fear, and mistrust still exist. What is missing?
First, let’s take a microscopic view at some of the present methods of dealing with “street crime” in black urban centers. Street crimes, which are primarily committed by blacks, are prosecuted more harshly than “white collar” crimes, which are primarily committed by whites. Also street crimes get more media and TV coverage. But that’s because tax fraud and securities abuse are less of a societal concern than “armed robbery.”
According to Harvard sociologist Chris Jencks, given a choice, almost everyone would rather be robbed by a computer than at “gunpoint.” Jencks says that drug possession is much more likely to be defined as a “criminal justice problem” in a low-income community. But white teenagers caught with drugs might be sent to “treatment” programs instead of being prosecuted, while similar treatment isn’t offered to blacks because resources aren’t provided to the same extent.
Which brings us back to the Austin community and other black urban centers in Chicago, which have more drug-related crimes than white collar crimes. Here are some suggestions that might help close the gap between police officers and community residents:
? A computerized tracking system for problem officers. To make sure investigations get into the system, an inspector general is needed.
? A civilian review board to replace “OPS.”
? Use of “brute force” team beatings don’t work. It might get the job done quickly but you create hate. Police cannot solve crimes when community people hate them. People solve crimes.
? The black communities have to start looking upon policemen as part of their community, as residents visiting family, not “invaders.”
? A “human ethics” bind of compassion is needed by all. Being human doesn’t mean being “soft” on crime.
Police officers come to work every day and spend eight or more hours in “their” work community and join in with us like an extended family. When they leave home in the mornings, like we leave home in the morning, both persons want to return home at night like they left it. Police are human beings with feelings. Just because they carry guns, doesn’t make them “machines.”
Community residents and police officers must break the “negative stereotype images” of African Americans shown on TV. I believe relations will improve if new “mindsets” are developed. Police officers have hearts, like residents in black communities have hearts.
This “new attitude” must start from the top. From Daley, Cline, the police academy, high-ranking officers, all must get word to the “foot patrol” on the streets. The “new attitude” of policemen, black and white, must stop viewing upon African Americans in Austin and the entire West Side like we are all criminals and somehow less human and deserving of harsh treatment. We are not aliens from another planet. Treat us the same as you treat white Americans.
The job of a police officer is very stressful and tough. Modern day technology has turned police officers into computerized fighting machines, yet officers have families with children similar to residents in their work communities. A “human touch” is needed today in this high-tension war atmosphere we are living under.
Finally, cameras in patrol cars don’t help good police officers. Henry Peeler had a good heart. Bad police officers will do “bad” away from the cameras. Only during interrogation is a camera needed. My pal Gene helped change my mind on this method of trying to keep police officers honest. “What happened to good old trust?” Gene asked. Why not “good” all the time?
Peeler died with his gun in his holster because he had a good heart. The young man he was chasing on foot did not shoot him. His thuggish pals with “zero hearts” did. (He was ambushed turning into an alley.)
I was numb and angry for years against some teenagers, good or bad. But my good heart finally stopped me from looking at them as one glove fits all, and I finally saw the forest again. Many different trees.
Living in Austin for eight years, I found that most of the people were like me, law-abiding nice human beings. Many were poor and out of work. Like many others in our black urban centers in Chicago, the “common bind” of “human ethics” might work.
Just try it.