Changing the Narrative: More Police Isn’t the Answer 

The Memphis Police Department wants to hire more officers in an effort to reduce the violent crime rate here, according to department and city of Memphis officials. But, will more officers on the street actually impact the crime rate? Or will it have unintentional adverse effects?

Having more officers on the force is not a problem in itself, but when officers begin to over-police and over-invade certain neighborhoods of the city, it becomes uncomfortable for those living there. Just the presence of more police officers in a neighborhood can make the residents feel anxious, targeted, and criminalized.

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It's all about trust, especially in communities of color, which comprise most of the city.

The ugly truth is that black and brown communities historically haven't had much reason to put their trust in law-enforcement agencies and the system they serve. When you read the history books, it makes sense that in many cases people of color would have a legitimate fear of the men and women in blue.

While it might sound to some like the same old, tired song of victimhood, just a little more than 50 years ago, police officers were the enforcers of segregation and Jim Crow laws in the South. In some ways, they were the physical representatives of an unjust system. While fighting for the rights every person deserves, black people were beaten, sprayed with water hoses, and attacked by canines controlled by police officers. People of color were basically stripped of their humanity, along with their basic human rights. I think our collective unconscious has absorbed the trauma of past police brutality. We cannot not help but to be apprehensive about trusting agents of the law who a few decades ago were the symbol of inequality.

However, I strongly disagree with those who say we should be harboring anger and holding onto grudges from the past. We should forgive, but not forget. We simply cannot heal and progress without first knowing where we came from.

In order to change the narrative for the future, we must acknowledge the narrative of the past, no matter how hard it might be. Nevertheless, we should look to move forward, doing what we can to change that narrative for our generation and those to come.

But as we move forward, we're regularly reminded that the fight isn't over. In recent years, we've seen numerous devastating videos of unarmed black folks shot dead by officers around the country. We see law-enforcement agencies tearing immigrant families apart, coupled with a militarized effort at the southern border to keep people of color out of the country.

We see walls that we thought were torn down simply morph into another shape. The problem hasn't gone away; it just looks different.

I think there have to be intentional strides made by both law enforcement and communities of color in order to reconcile and eventually build a bridge where there have historically been walls. For starters, instead of riding around in the comfort of their police cruisers, officers could be out walking in the neighborhoods, interacting with residents, and getting to know the people they swore to serve and protect. A lot of the time, humans fear what they don't know. People of color are viewed as a threat or as criminals because of preconceived notions that, in many cases, are propelled by the media. We see a black teen wearing a hoodie, and some people automatically assume he's up to no good. In 17-year-old Trayvon Martin's case, it was that assumption made by a neighborhood watcher that cost him his life in 2012.

What if people took the time to get to know the kid under the hood, instead of prejudging him as a thug or a gangbanger? How then could the narrative change?

On the other side, the public does have the responsibility to respect officers of the law. If we want respect, we have to give respect. The best we can do is comply and hope officers respond accordingly. As people of color, we have to take back our dignity and help rehumanize ourselves. We cannot fulfill the expectations of the world. We can't continue to allow our young folks to drop out of school or or grow up without fathers without fighting to change that process and the forces that cause it. We have to take some responsibility and initiative when it comes to changing the narrative. We need comprehensive policing reform in this country, and everyone has a part to play, if the narrative is to change.

Maya Smith is a Flyer staff writer.

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