Steps toward better policing

Opinion: Columns

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By Jim Schwartz

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Across this country, an uprising has been ignited by the murder of George Floyd — his death one in a long line perpetrated by police officers on unarmed Black people. And yet the tinder for this fire comes from so many sources: the legal, educational, health, and financial systems that try to marginalize Black people at every turn.

Some of us, especially some with white skin, might disagree with this analysis, might argue that these systems are now color-blind and fair, but the data on each of them belies this claim. In every arena, Black Americans have been hampered by these systems, and we can draw a direct line between this fact and the conditions created by enslavement, continued by Jim Crow, and perpetuated until today by modern systems of discrimination.

These systems might seem inevitable and unchangeable, but powerful movements led by Black Americans have changed them, and we can continue to change them through incessant, incremental actions and shifts.

Here in Oak Park, Freedom to Thrive released a report that pushes for three major shifts in policing: creating more independent oversight, reviewing the use-of-force policy, and reducing the funds spent on police versus social services. The report states, "The impact of a large police force, in particular the trauma of increased policing on young people of color, is something that our elected officials must take into account when voting to increase the resources given to the police department."

As part of this reduction in policing, we must remove police officers from dedicated assignments in our schools. We must listen to young people of color in this village, like those participating in Revolutionary Oak Park Youth Action League (ROYAL), who are telling us that police officers in schools make them feel unsafe. Here, I draw on my own experience as a school principal, in which the presence of police officers turned student altercations into legal matters. Schools can call police officers when they are needed — we do not need officers stationed in, or assigned to, schools.

For me, it seems straightforward that we need to spend less on policing than we do on social services. We need fewer officers responding to the small number of violent incidents, and more services that respond to all other community concerns. It seems straightforward that we need strong community oversight of police actions when they do need to be called. It seems straightforward that we need stronger and more stringent guidelines for when police use force in the even smaller number of cases where that may be necessary. And it seems straightforward that we need to eliminate the assignment of police to schools.

If we could achieve these four goals, I believe that our community would advance the causes it claims to care about. If we dramatically reduced the amount we spend on policing, took police out of schools, restricted the occasions when police could use force, and reviewed that force on the rare occasions it might need to be used, we would begin creating a community that truly values the lives of the Black and Latinx young people who live here.

We would create a community where police violence against Black and Brown youth would become less likely, and where regular police interactions with those communities would be reduced. And we could turn our attention to the interconnected range of other issues — educational, health, financial, and so on — that we must confront to truly address the causes of the current uprising and create the community all of our residents deserve.

Jim Schwartz is an Oak Park resident, an educator, and a blogger at Entwining.org.

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