How to fix police-black distrust

Calls for reform of police after the killing of blacks in the US must include more ways to build trust and inclusiveness in cities. Worldwide, as more people live in cities, urban life needs constant work toward mutual dependence.

AP Photo
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton watch a Dec. 4 demonstration at the police academy on how officers should talk with residents.

Their names now stand for a rupture of trust between blacks and law enforcement in much of urban America: Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York City, Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

Yet even as the deaths of these African-Americans at the hands of police have evoked protests and a debate over how to reform criminal justice, a larger issue must not be missed: As more cities become magnets for growth and innovation, they must also learn to be inclusive.

Police-community divisions only begin to touch on the need for cities to constantly define what ties residents together. If people of color resist arrest and police resort to violence too quickly or with racial stereotypes, that should serve as a signal that a city must build respect, create hope, and balance social order with individual justice.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said just before the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo that the city “is becoming more unified” because of a better partnership between police and the community. The city plans to boost training of police to focus on how to de-escalate encounters by treating all citizens with respect “even during arrests,” he said. And an ambitious $130 million, four-year program will address the mental health needs of people to help prevent incidents of crime.

“Real change is achieved by working closely with the community, finding out what the community believes will work – what the community needs, adapting our strategies, creating that kind of partnership,” said Mr. de Blasio.

In St. Louis County, the tragedy in Ferguson municipality is leading toward better civilian control over police, thus ensuring community values are reflected in law enforcement. The business community, too, is investing more in projects to promote jobs and community cohesion.

“We believed that there is a shared reality that we have not formed here in St. Louis,” St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce President Joe Reagan told St. Louis Public Radio. “We have to be able to get on the same page and say ‘This is what the situation is around jobs, around socioeconomic gaps, around education gaps, around despair that people have and around policing’.”

Urban areas have been growing faster than suburbs as young people and empty-nesters seek the amenities of city life, and not only in the United States,. Worldwide, the United Nations says more than half of people now live in cities, despite the advantage of digital technologies for communications. By 2050, two-thirds of humans will live in cities.

Cities serve not only as incubators of ideas but as creators of the middle-class. Studies show city folk walk faster, make friends faster, and boost economic activity per capita. The pace of change within cities must not leave others behind. The recent clashes between police and urban minorities in the US are only a leading indicator of what needs to be done.

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