Policing is the use of violence to solve social problems. If we want stop police violence, we need alternatives to policing.

by Nathan J. Robinson, Current Affairs

The core problem with police is that the main tool they have for addressing any given problem is force or the threat of force. The police can arrest people (i.e., an act we would refer to as “kidnapping someone and throwing them in a cage” if it were done by an entity beside the state). They can whack you with a stick. They can shoot electricity into you. Or they can shoot you or choke you to death.

Sometimes, we want there to be a government agency that has the power to do these things. A couple of years ago, armed men broke into my apartment building after fleeing the scene of a robbery. One of them was wanted for murder, and climbed into the building’s attic, directly above my apartment. The police surrounded the building and raided it. I confess that when they pulled the murder suspect down from the attic and took him away, I was glad that the police had come.

Mayor de Blasio, Commissioner Bratton and Homeland Security chief Johnson presided over the graduation of new NYPD officers at Madison Square Garden

But there are plenty of other situations where the police make everything worse, because what a given situation calls for is not someone whose primary tool is the use of violent force. In 2012, Robert Saylor, a Maryland man with Down syndrome, tried to see a movie twice without paying for a second ticket. When he was asked to leave, he refused and became agitated. Three off-duty police deputies came, and “despite Saylor’s caretaker’s warnings and pleas for them to wait and let her take care of it,” they wrestled him to the ground and ended up choking him to death.

In 2016, a behavioral therapist named Charles Kinsey was trying to help an autistic patient who had run away from his group home. When police came upon the scene, Kinsey, fearing a bad violent reaction from police in a tense situation, lay on the ground and put his hands in the air, explaining clearly to police that the patient was not armed, and was just holding a toy: “All he has is a toy truck. A toy truck. I am a behavior therapist at a group home.” A police officer, not bothering to listen to Kinsey, decided to shoot the autistic patient with the toy truck. Instead, he ended up shooting Kinsey in the leg. (The officer was found guilty of criminal negligence and given probation, though the conviction was later overturned.)

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