For the past week our great cities have been torn apart by mobs of citizens protesting the brutal murder of George Floyd while in police custody. There was no possible excuse for the way which Minneapolis police treated Mr. Floyd, and the guilty parties must be brought to justice. But what can we do to end the rioting? What long term solutions are possible that will bring an end to these episodic periods of racial mayhem? What will bring a sense of real fulfillment and freedom to our black brothers and sisters?
It is an unfortunate fact that there is a high incidence of crime in many of our large urban centers, and the police are called upon to deal with these crimes. Blacks are frequently involved. Large cities have tried to integrate their police departments, but some small percentage of officers remain racists, and perhaps a few more are simply incompetent. Rarely, but too often, an unarmed black is killed in a confrontation with police, usually accidentally but sometimes on purpose. In a nation of three-hundred and thirty million people it happens less than twenty times a year. Each occurrence is a tragedy, but the aftermath is often worse.
When a police officer kills a black man, truth is often the first casualty. Agitators sometime like to portray the police as the chief threat to the lives of young black men, but that is patently false. A few years ago, Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute wrote, “the police could end all lethal uses of force tomorrow and it would have a trivial effect on the black death by homicide rate. The nation’s police killed 987 civilians in 2015 . . . Whites were 50% — or 493 of those victims, and blacks were 26 percent – or 258. Most of those victims of police shootings, white and black, were armed or otherwise threatening the officer with potentially lethal force.” Compare that number 258 to the approximately 6000 black murder victims that same year, the vast majority of whom were victims of black on black crime. The situation has not changed since Ms. MacDonald wrote those words in 2016.
Police are not usually hired for their meek manner and winsome ways. It takes a certain degree of bravado and toughness to enforce the law, especially in the crime-ridden districts of our major cities. As Ms. MacDonald observed, “police have an obligation to treat everyone with courtesy and respect,” but “too often, officers develop a hardened, obnoxious attitude.” In the inner city, police are placed in situations where most African Americans are already convinced that the criminal justice system is skewed against them, and “Given the history of racism in this country and the complicity of police in that history, police shootings of black men are understandably fraught.” At present, however, according to MacDonald, “officers are at a much greater risk from blacks than unarmed blacks are from police.” Statistics support that assertion.
But statistics be damned! Truth is sometimes far less important than perceptions. Too many blacks are absolutely convinced that the police are their enemy
What can be done to change things? As I considered this question, two thoughts came to mind. First, I remembered my April 29 post on “Gunfights and Posses.” The chief point of that little essay was that lawmen in frontier country were very dependent on the support of their fellow citizens. There was no large constabulary to protect citizens from the depredations of robber gangs. Instead, as necessary, the local sheriff would deputize a sufficient number of locals to stand up to the badmen. It usually worked.
Second, to buttress this memory from times past, today I heard a news report that some “Black Lives Matter” organizers are talking of establishing an armed militia in some cities to protect blacks from police. That news item gave me another thought.
Now, let me put these two thoughts together. Let us organize our citizens to defend themselves.
It has become increasingly apparent that no police department is equipped to stand up to rioting and looting of the magnitude that we are now experiencing. With few exceptions, National Guard units are not trained to deal with civil unrest. Regular army and marines should be employed only as a last resort. I believe the answer to our problem lies in enlisting civilians to protect themselves and their neighborhoods.
Residents of our large cities should be recruited into companies of police auxiliaries that could be called to serve in times of emergency. An auxiliary company would be centered in the neighborhood from which it was recruited. In black neighborhoods the company would be black led and composed primarily of black citizens. Police auxiliaries would not carry lethal weapons, but they could patrol and protect neighborhoods and businesses as needed. The regular police would continue to perform their regular functions. In addition, they would provide tactical instruction to the auxiliaries, and a specially trained police officer could be integrated into each auxiliary company for purposes of liaison.
I believe that many people would leap at the opportunity to serve their community in this way. I am ninety years old, and I would gladly step forward to do my part (if they would have me). I venture to say that my friends in our local senior center feel the same. I am convinced that citizens of color would also volunteer in large numbers. They are tired of seeing their neighborhoods trashed and businesses destroyed.
Have you heard of the Guardian Angels? This organization was founded in 1979 by Curtis Sliwa. The original purpose was to combat widespread violence and crime on the New York City subway system. Later it began patrolling streets and neighborhoods and providing crime prevention programs and workshops for schools and businesses. Its relationship with the regular law establishment was somewhat tenuous, but New York City mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg publicly supported the group. Guardian Angel chapters later spread to over 130 cities worldwide. Unfortunately, the organization never grew to the numbers needed to suppress riots of the magnitude we have seen recently. Curtis Sliwa, the founder, had his jaw broken when he confronted the looters last week, and his small cadre of supporters was overwhelmed.
Sliwa always hoped that his organization would get police support and expand to include more citizens. Perhaps we could do it along the lines that I outlined above.
Surely, we must do something!