Rachel Kleinfeld writes: The killing of Jordan Edwards this week should yield outrage. It should also serve as a wake-up to the rest of America. I’m finishing a book on countries that recovered from pervasive violence. While war makes the headlines, citizen-on-citizen violence, ranging from all to common homicide to insurrection and Boko Haram-like groups, kill four times as many people as wars today. Two factors serve as major catalysts for this kind of violence: Repressive policing, and a failure to police at all. The United States is teetering on the edge of both mistakes.
We’ve been here before. In 1971, New York City’s police shot someone every four days. The era’s repressive policing, in which Southern police sometimes relied on the Klan for dirty work while the National Guard was called out to quell riots and protests in the North, contributed to the spiraling bloodshed of that time. Horrible as today’s police shootings are, they have nothing on a year in which New York City alone would have accounted for a tenth of all police killings in the nation today.
But after 1971, a series of strong police commissioners cleaned up New York’s force. Other police departments around the country followed. Deadly encounters with the police went into free fall for twenty years. The slow creep of war on drugs’ policies and military equipment purchases changed police culture again – but it is possible to get better.
The U.S. can learn from its own history, and from countries like Colombia, Italy, and even the Republic of Georgia.
In each country, the key to reform was awakening the middle class. Violence tends to hit the poor and marginalized the hardest – but it is the middle class that has the voice to make change. That’s a problem, because the middle class would often prefer to avoid the problem. Follow the rules, stay in good neighborhoods, don’t wear “gangster” clothes, and many people in the middle class believe – rightly, if their skin color is white – that they can avoid violence from police and other parts of society.
So the first lesson for organizers is to make it clear: Violence doesn’t just happen to criminals. That’s why Jordan’s parents are so keen to prove that their son was an honor’s student. [Continue reading…]