Many Americans are angry about the police use of military practices and equipment, like rubber bullets and tear gas, against protestors in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City. Protests happened after the recent deaths of unarmed civilians when they clashed with police officers.
VOA has spoken with both critics and supporters of police about the tensions between mostly white police and mostly black communities. We asked them what could be done to improve relations between police and the people in the communities.
Al Haj Abdur Rashid is a community activist and Islamic religious leader -- an imam. He is the president of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York. He says the lack of trust between police and black and poor people in America is not new. He says it has existed since the time of the Civil War -- the mid 1800s.
“Anyone who studies American history, there has always been a consistent national problem between law enforcement and its abusive tactics vis-a-vis people of color generally and poor people in particular. And law enforcement still hasn’t gotten it right.”
In the past twenty years, many police have followed what is called the “Broken Windows” theory of community policing. This theory says police should fight even the smallest of crimes because they will lead to larger crimes if they are not stopped. But critics of the theory say it has led police to be too quick to arrest people rather than simply warning them. They say people are detained for such minor crimes as throwing trash on the ground, playing music too loudly or drinking alcohol in public.
Robert Ganji is the director of the Police Reform Organizing Project in New York. He says New York City police officers have a quota -- a minimum number of people they must arrest.
“But what the cops do because of the quota system is they arrest people because they don’t get credit for issuing a warning and having that take care of the problem. They don’t get credit if they break up a fight between two boys and send them home. They will only get credit if they arrest two boys for assault.”
Mr. Ganji says that pressure to make arrests -- and fear -- causes some police officers to look at people in high-crime and minority neighborhoods as possible criminals. He says police should look at residents as people they are trained to serve. He says when police consider residents to be criminals first and citizens second, the community becomes angry and quickly criticizes the police.
Maki Haberfeld teaches law and police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. She says people should not become angry when police use force while accepting the good things that police bring. She uses the words of British writer George Orwell:
“‘People sleep peacefully in their beds at night because there are some rough men out there ready to do violence on their behalf.’ It’s important for me to stress that I don’t think that police officers are the judge and the jury. They’re not there to punish people who violate the law. But we do need to take it within the context that police officers interact with people who are violent, who have violent pasts.”
Ms. Haberfeld admits that police officers can make deadly mistakes. But she says that is because there are no national rules for when and how police should use force. She says that is a failure of the system, not of individual police officers.
“They don’t receive the right tools to police the way they are supposed to police.”
Experts say there are other reasons many minority communities are angry with the police. These include poverty and a lack of education and economic opportunity.
I’m Christopher Cruise.
This story is based on a report by VOA reporter Adam Philips in New York and adapted for Learning English by Christopher Cruise and edited by Hai Do. It was narrated by Christopher Cruise.
Words in the News
protest – v. to speak against; to object
clash – n. a battle; v. to fight or oppose
criticize – v. to say what is wrong with something or someone; to condemn; to judge
detain – v. to keep or hold (“The police detained several suspects for questioning.”)
admit – v. to accept (“admitted to the United Nations”); to express one’s guilt or responsibility (“He admitted that what he did was wrong.”)