The Troubles with America’s Policing (An Opinion Piece by Robert M. Snekser)

Note: Robert Snekser is a 14-year-old Peace Activist and  who attends Kenmore East. He is part of the Students for Action, Students Against Gun Violence, and of course the WNY Peace Center. He (again) spoke eloquently and courageously at the March For Our Lives. Thank you, Robert, for your insightful column below, and for your compassion and commitment!! Together, We Shall Overcome!!  #UnitetheStruggles!!

Police in the United States have a historic presence of being violent, especially in the last 60 or so years. Talking about police can leave a bad taste in people’s mouths, specifically those of minorities. Being white you may not know how people of color get treated by police, being straight you may not know how LGBTQ+ people are often viewed by police, and being a man may mean you don’t know how women get treated by police, male cops in particular. Saying this, it might need to be clarified that being a part of one of these privileged groups doesn’t make you inherently evil and it’s not meant to attack you. However, it is meant to shed light on your potential ignorance and to hopefully encourage people of privilege to get the conversation going with their friends who also hold some aspect of privilege.

When you think of police brutality you may think of the killings of unarmed black men like Stephon Clark. This has become the face of modern police brutality, for a very good reason. It happens all too often that unarmed black men are fatally shot by police. Yes, more white people are shot by police, but when you look at the records, these people are almost always armed with a gun and there are more whites than black in America. When you look at the statistics of probability however, black people are more likely to be killed by police than white people. This issue most likely stems from the institutionalized racism that this country was built on, specifically referencing slavery and Jim Crow Laws. Both of these were said to be “local issues” by the federal government previously and now the government is saying that the issue of police murdering unarmed black men is also a “local issue”. Clearly slavery and Jim Crow Laws had to be dealt with at a national level and hopefully the national government will take care of these murders in the same way.

The harsh treatment of black men and women is nothing new. Look at how police responded to Civil Rights protests in the 1960s. They responded by arresting the protesters for exercising their first amendment right to assemble, they blasted them with fire hoses, and attacked them with police dogs. Police have always reacted differently to people of color than they do to white people.

Not to erase the incredibly real and valid concerns of Black Lives Matter (an organization which should be supported fully), indigenous peoples in America are actually at a higher risk to be killed by police than any other group of people. They also face extreme backlash from police. For a recent example, the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which took place for almost a year, led to extreme unprecedented responses from police. They used many tactics similar to what they used during the Civil Rights movement.

Another issue with our policing system is that officers often have no idea how to deal with people with mental illnesses and disabilities. They often react by shooting first and assessing later, granted that isn’t just limited to this, but this mindset leads to the deaths of innocent people. Police need to be trained on how to actually deal with people who have a mental illness or a mental disability so that hopefully their behavior towards these people will change as they realize they can’t treat everyone as neurotypical.

Police also have treated LGBTQ+ Americans with a similar blatant disrespect for human lives. They raided gay nightclubs and bars throughout the 50s and 60s until the Gay Community had had enough. The Stonewall Inn Riots of 1969 were an important step for gay liberation. Theses riots were caused by how the police raided the bar and then invaded these individuals privacy. The LGBTQ+ community finally fought back. Another example of how the LGBTQ+ community has been negatively treated by police is the White Night Riots which occurred after the sentencing of Dan White, the man who murdered Harvey Milk. Hours after the riot had broken up, the San Francisco Police raided a gay bar in the Castro District as a way to “get back” at San Francisco’s gay community. Police today still tend to have homophobic and transphobic tendencies, the biggest example being the misgendering of murdered transgender people. On a similar topic, male police officers specifically tend to be sexist towards women, often changing their mood and tone when a man enters the situation.

The Buffalo Police Department happens to be one of the least murderous large police forces in the country, killing only two individuals between 2013 and 2017. However, both of the men were unarmed, one was black and the other latinx. Despite Buffalo Police being better than other police forces in the nation, our congressional representatives and our state representatives need to be fighting for nationwide and statewide legislation on how to deal with violence perpetrated by police.

Some ideas to combat police violence, specifically in the area of police shootings, would be to disarm a portion of the police, to arm a majority of police with only rubber bullets, and to make officers go through more training with how to deal with protests and how to deal with people with mental illnesses. Police who want to be armed with guns should have to go through more training and rookie officers should never have guns. Police who have a history of domestic violence  should never be allowed to be armed, arguably they shouldn’t be allowed in the police force to begin with.

There’s a long way to go in combating American police violence, however hopefully, with the help of our representatives at state and federal levels, we can get there.