On My Mind: Police Work, And The Damage Left Behind

Aug 10, 2020

Lately I’ve been thinking about the similarities between the two big stories of 2020 – the pandemic caused by the coronavirus, and the global protests on inequality and policing sparked by the killing of George Floyd.

There’s a hole in the way we think about both events.

With the virus, we dwell on all those who have died, as we should, but we don’t pay enough attention to the ones who get the virus and survive. Many of them are still dealing with lingering symptoms, and trying to handle the psychological scars.

You could say the same about many Black Americans who have dealt with our system of policing in an up close and personal way.

You might have heard Sarah Delia’s story on WFAE the other day about the east Charlotte family whose rental house was wrecked by police who were looking for a felony suspect. He didn’t live at the house, although they had arrested him there once before. This time, they didn’t believe Melinda London when she said the suspect wasn’t in her house. When they went in, they damaged the roof and the ceiling, and sprayed the house with tear gas. So now the house is unlivable and some of the family’s belongings are ruined. London said one police officer made a crybaby gesture at the family when they complained.

There’s some dispute over whether Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have offered London and her family a place to stay while the house is repaired. But what to do afterward is less of a problem than what happened in the first place.

So much of the way police are trained in this country revolves around shock and awe. Even small police departments have so many weapons and tools that it’s like carrying around a sack of hammers, and every problem looks like a nail.

Out in Aurora, Colorado, the other day, police came across what they thought was a stolen car. It turned out the SUV wasn’t stolen. But when police showed up, they forced everybody out at gunpoint. Those occupants included one adult and four girls, all Black. The youngest one was 6.

There’s a video of the girls, facedown on the pavement in a parking lot, two of them in handcuffs, crying and screaming as the white officers stand around them. I would say it’s heartbreaking, but our hearts have been broken so many times by so many videos just like it that I don’t know if there are any pieces left to shatter.

The police chief in Aurora apologized. But again, the apology is not the point. The point is that the officers were following procedure.

Those procedures are there for a practical reason and a philosophical one. The practical reason is that our country allows just about anybody who wants a gun to own an arsenal, and so police have reason to be wary. Changing that is on the consciences of state legislatures and Congress.

But it also feels like a lot of police philosophy in this country, whether intentional or not, ends up treating the public as the enemy. That’s especially true when it comes to our Black citizens. That’s the reason there’s such a movement in this country to cut funding for police, or at least force them to consider different ways to handle things on the street. There has to be change. Because we can now all see the wreckage that gets left behind.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Want to read all of WFAE’s best news each day? Sign up for our daily newsletter, The Frequency, to have our top stories delivered straight to your inbox.