A new model of policing needs to occur in many locations in the United States. Gone should be the days of a militaristic style policing where a “show of force” and a “me against them” attitude prevails.
Social problems, individual problems, a feeling of helplessness and inability to express our feelings, has been something that different groups of people have felt routinely over time, and has not been adequately addressed by our society with community programs, outreach, and professional help. People who are in pain have a need to express their feelings, whether it be in their home or in public. Such is the beauty of our constitution that allows for freedom of assembly and the right to petition our government. We have this first amendment right!
Where though, is the line drawn for safe expression of our rights to assemble and free speech, and the potential for being considered a “riot” in the making, or an already existing riot. That “fine line” is something the police are used to hearing about, that line of which some things should not be crossed. That line should be a recognition of the police that not all assemblies or multitudes of people with strong opinion, is a group of fanatics that need to be controlled with nerve gasses, armored vehicles, and shot guns displayed and pointed at crowds. That term “riot” has been used pretty loosely of late!
How is our country to feel safe in its constitutional right to peacefully protest, express our feelings, when the threat of military police force is in the air? Why arrest the press and cut off their cameras? What is it with the police riding atop armored vehicles with rifles drawn? Where do we live? Where is the first amendment?
What has happened in Ferguson and other parts of the country not getting this press coverage is reminiscent of old Soviet style government control of dissenting citizens opinions. When I was in Russia in August of 1991 and the government was being overthrown right before my eyes, tanks were in the streets, small bombs were going off in front of embassies, the United States Embassy in particular. Russian citizens and I were cut off from all reputable news sources. Regular international news stations were blacked out and a musical symphony performance took the place of information that people so desperately wanted to have. I appreciated our country then and its freedoms like at no other point in time.
Community policing may seem like a vague term, but it is a term that I hope more cities across the nation pay attention to. With community policing, there is a basic understanding that the freedom to assemble and express one’s opinion peacefully is within our right, and that police can actually be helpful in allowing those basic rights to continue safely. A police presence ideally should not necessarily mean a “show of force” with guns drawn and arrests of journalists. There is a difference. Community policing is a police force that gets to know its community personally and truly understands what issues they are having. Thus, when a protest occurs, there is less less likely to be an overreaction to a peaceful demonstration. When is the time to show military equipment perhaps once used to take out Osama Bin Laden? Is it ever appropriate here? Our town had its test with the Yates Motor Company incident several years ago. I believe that experience was a learning experience for everyone.
We are a democracy. We are not a police state. We abide by strict laws, but we have the ability to speak our opinions. We should not break the law. But let the first amendment continue to define us as a nation. Let it continue. Allow citizens to disagree peacefully, without the fear of an unreasonable show of force.