Given the recent trend of militarizing police forces, Tina Moore and Sarah Ryley of the Daily News write that, “If the zombie apocalypse ever comes to New York, towns big and small will have the weaponry to handle it.” The police force, a Machiavellian machine pushing for public order through fear tactics, sounds like the kind of post-apocalyptic content you’d see in the movies, but this is the reality we’re living now. Although there is little value in enforcing the law if it means creating divisions that feed into hatred and violence, the ongoing militarization of our police force means exactly that.
As part of a nationwide program, the Binghamton Police Department (BPD) announced that they would be holding a “Coffee with a Cop” event to help improve their relations with the community. This kind of outreach sounds phenomenal in a time where police-community tensions are high, with distrust still growing day by day. It’s quite comical, then, that this announcement comes on the heels of BPD acquiring a confounding waste of money on wheels meant to terrorize citizens: the BearCat G3, an armored truck probably great for fighting off the aforementioned zombies. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but a $2 coffee from McDonald’s does jack to counter their $275,000 investment in a tool of war.
FOX 40’s brief news snippet does little to assuage my concerns, either. The short clip they aired fails to show any meaningful interaction with the community beside a conversation with old white men — arguably the demographic with the least need for improved relations with the police. When police disproportionately target and kill African Americans — with or without militarization — what this means for the local police department is clear: It’s going to affect the same parts of the community where they already have a poor record.
Coffee aside, in an ideal world, man would not need policing — and in that ideal world, the police would be abolished entirely. I recognize that there cannot be a perfect world as I describe, but it’s markedly nonnegotiable that something fundamental must change if the police force as we know it is going to continue to exist.
The Pentagon’s $4.3 billion program that permits the dissemination of military equipment renders cops nothing more than defenders of the status quo and agents of terror. New York alone has received $28 million worth of equipment, and that’s just the number from 2014. Even Eugene O’Donnell, a lecturer of law, police science and criminal justice administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former police officer, argues against the program for not ensuring that those operating the equipment are trained to do so, though I disagree with his impression that undoing the program means we’ll be worse off than before. The most viable solution, then, beyond demilitarization, is building police from the bottom up, an approach that runs directly counter to the current practices of policing in the United States.
This more community-centric approach is the best alternative to the recurring issue of militarization, if we are to keep the police at all. The community should be more involved in who becomes an officer, and those who are already in the police department should be held accountable by the same standard of community support.
This is hardly close to how police departments are currently run. Police chiefs across the United States have rehired 451 fired officers between 2006 and 2017, which accounts for nearly a quarter of those fired. Having this staggering number of violent and power-abusive officers remain in positions of authority is terrifying, but is precisely the result of appeals required by union contracts. If we were to take these officers off the street, however, we might actually see less crime.
Take, for example, the brief periods when the NYPD prowled the streets in fewer numbers than they typically would. In these short stints, such as the one in 2019, reported crimes dropped significantly. In the week that followed the firing of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who unjustly choked Eric Garner to death in 2014, the subsequent NYPD drawback saw reported crimes go down 27 percent from the year before. This drop in reported crime is attributed to a decrease in “broken-windows policing,” a policy that aims to target low-level crimes in hopes that it would prevent more serious ones, much of which result in unnecessary arrests. In other words, we’re subject to their fearmongering.
These minor, unintentional experiments in less policing are meager, but they have wide-reaching implications for the function and purpose of a policing force in our society. What it shows us is that we don’t need to buy military-grade materials and cheap coffee dates with cops to improve our relationship with the police. Instead, at the very least, we need the police to be from and for the people they’re meant to serve.
After all, we’re not a war zone — we’re a community.
Evan Moravansky is a senior majoring in English.