The Cycle of Harm in Over-Policing Black and Brown Communities
The Akron, Ohio, community is mourning the loss of 25-year-old Black man Jayland Walker, who was shot over 60 times by police officers after a routine traffic stop. Footage released over the weekend shows that, during the attempt to stop Walker’s vehicle, a gunshot was fired from the vehicle. After a brief pursuit, eight police officers stopped the car and opened fire as he exited (NPR). Hundreds of people have taken to the streets in Akron in protests, and dozens have been arrested. The tragedy has emphasized the police’s use of excessive force and the over-policing of marginalized people.
A controversial example of this is “stop and frisk” initiatives, which allow police to stop and detain someone if they have “reasonable belief” that the person is, has been, or is about to be involved in a crime (NYTimes). After taking office in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg dramatically extended this program across NYC. Data indicated that crime decreased because of it, but that was later noted as an indirect correlation after the program was reduced. During that time, Black and Latino people were nine times as likely as white people to be stopped by the police but were no more likely to warrant an arrest (NYTimes). Another study found that only 6% of stops from 2009 to 2012 had resulted in an arrest, and 0.1% in a conviction for a violent crime. The majority of those stops caused undue stress and anxiety in the community. The practice was deemed unconstitutional in 2012 (The Guardian).
Predominantly Black neighborhoods are simultaneously over-policed when it comes to surveillance and social control, and under-policed when it comes to emergency services.”
Daanika Gordon, an assistant professor of sociology in the School of Arts and Sciences for Tufts
A report by the Prison Policy Initiative found that Black residents were more likely to be stopped by police than white or Hispanic residents, both in traffic and street stops. And over one in six Black respondents stated that they had similar interactions with police multiple times over the course of the year. During these interactions, police were twice as likely to use force against Black or Hispanic residents than white residents (Prison Policy).
And there are countless examples of these stops resulting in death. Philando Castile was murdered in 2016 at a routine traffic stop – and had been stopped at least 46 times before in his lifetime (Reason). Army Lt. Caron Nazario, who identifies as Black and Latino, was recently stopped, pepper-sprayed, and handcuffed during a routine traffic stop. The officers involved illegally pulled their weapons, threatened to murder him, and illegally searched the vehicle (NPR). The death of Sandra Bland was also caused by an unjust traffic stop back in 2015 (Vox). And more recently, Daunte Wright was killed by police officers after a routine stop in Minneapolis (NBC News).
Over-policing also causes harm by weakening trust – not just between police and civilians, but between each other, too. Over-policing creates a biased perception that certain community members are more likely to harm than others, which is racially biased and skewed. And when people lose faith in the system, they’re less likely to cooperate with it, which in turn, makes policing more ineffective as time goes on (Vox). There’s some beneficial work that can come out of this, like mutual aid and safety networks organized by the community as a more nurturing alternative. But it can also spark violent outrage and retaliation, which serves no one.
We must advocate divesting from policing in our communities. We can also do our part to invest in other community-based services and practice using them instead of calling in law enforcement. It might seem small, but that one less interaction could save someone’s life.
• 25-year-old Jayland Walker was shot over 60 times by police officers after a routine traffic stop.
• Over-policing increases the number of interactions between police and Black and Brown people, increasing the likelihood of harm.
• Despite what they say, over-policing doesn’t create safer communities.