Belief in magic can be charming in a child. Much less so in an adult. So it’s disconcerting to see so many people express a belief that crime and disorder can be wished away if only the right people are chosen to deal with it. The right people, according to Vice News, are not the police.
I refer to the May 24 piece by Emma Ockerman that ran under the headline, “What If We Just Stopped Calling the Cops?” The article begins with an ominous scenario: “JeAnnette Singleton heard gunfire outside her home in Warren, Ohio, one night in August 2020.” A reader may wonder at this point if Singleton had been the intended victim, and if not she, then who? We aren’t told. “Two days later,” Ockerman continues, “she saw bullet holes in her and her son’s cars. She was scared. But she knew she wouldn’t call the police.”
And why not? “Singleton, a 60-year-old licensed therapist and social worker, is Black,” we learn. “So is her 29-year-old son.” Ockerman goes on to invoke the name of George Floyd, who had died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers months earlier. As was seen in the early ’90s, when every police encounter in the country was viewed through the prism of the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles, for the foreseeable future all such encounters will be judged by their potential for a George Floyd–like outcome.
Singleton worried the police would assume her son was a “drug dealer or a gang member,” the report reveals. “They could hurt him, she thought, or more likely do nothing at all.”
“I didn’t report it,” Singleton said, “and I hated it.”
Putting aside the question of why it took two days to discover the bullet holes, if Singleton or her son had indeed been the intended targets of the shooter, and if she was unwilling to involve the police in the matter, how did she imagine that her fears would be allayed?
Singleton’s fear of her son being hurt by the police seems far-fetched, but her suspicion that they would do nothing is less so. Putting myself in the position of a police officer handling such a call (as I often did while serving with the LAPD), I would have taken a report of the damage to the cars and searched for any security cameras that might have captured the incident. And I would have tried to determine who the intended victim had been and why he had been targeted. The discovery of a simmering feud in the neighborhood might result in further investigation and added patrols. But, absent solid evidence, it’s true that, as Singleton suspected, little could be done to catch the shooter.
Still, what does it say about Singleton and her neighborhood that such a crime can occur and result in no calls to the police? It says such a crime is tolerable, and where crime is tolerated, it flourishes.
Ockerman gives us other anecdotes about people declining to call the police when others might have, including the story of Jennifer Lewinski, 44, of Asbury Park, N.J. Lewinski was dating a parolee who physically abused her, yet she didn’t call the police for fear that they would hurt or kill her boyfriend. “Even though he’s hurting me,” she told Ockerman, “he’s still a person that I love and I don’t want him dead.”
This fraught situation seems like a strange case against police involvement, but the fact remains that these opinions are growing more common. Ockerman cites a Gallup poll conducted after George Floyd’s death that found trust in American police had hit a record low of 48 percent, “the first time in nearly 30 years without a majority.” Considering the relentless media coverage of Floyd’s death, and the equally relentless implications that every police officer is every bit as callous as those involved in it, it’s a wonder the number wasn’t even lower.
Ockerman writes approvingly of calls to defund police departments and shift resources into “preventative solutions,” and she cites Austin, Texas, as one city where this is being tried. Austin has “poured some of the leftover [police] funds into providing services for homeless people living in permanent supportive housing,” she writes.
This prompts the question: With what result? Ockerman does not say, but some may be interested to know that homicides in Austin rose by more than 50 percent in 2020 from the previous year. And the problem isn’t limited to Austin. As CNN reported in April, 63 of the 66 largest police jurisdictions in America saw increases in violent crime in 2020, and there has been no letup this year.
People may choose not to report crime to the police, but as should be clear by now, this won’t stop the crime from occurring. Whatever police reforms may follow in the wake of George Floyd’s death, there remains the inescapable fact that police are a necessary part of any city’s governance. To pretend otherwise is dangerous, even deadly, sophistry.