H.H. Gonzales: Does More Police Equal Security?

On May 18, Ypsilanti City Council voted to go over budget and hire 3 armed YPD officers and 1 YPD records clerk. The vote was split 4-3, with those opposed expressing concerns about adding to the budget deficit and lack of time for public input, including via the council’s own Police Oversight Commission. On June 1, members of the public spoke and council members defended their votes. The council can still remove the officers from the budget through amendment and can still make time for a public dialogue. In the next few weeks, we will publish here a series of posts to encourage that dialogue.

I have lived in and around Ypsilanti for the majority of my life. I’m a 50-year-old “black” man, and have witnessed the criminal activity in Ypsilanti from an up close and personal point of view for many years. I have a unique angle. According to society and the courts I was labeled a criminal, went to prison, and returned to society as an activist for the betterment of the Ypsilanti community.

It was interesting to read the point of views from the board members, but also disheartening. The safety of our community hasn’t been and never will be secured by police, no matter how many we have. I’m here to state honestly that three more police won’t change anything for the better. First, we are not hiring the Avengers with super human powers. We would be paying the salary of three people who will be just as reactive as those already on the payroll. When it’s all said and done, the police force is a reactive entity. If we really want to go over budget for anything, it should be a proactive measure at the least. The violence of the streets won’t be alleviated by putting more armed people on the streets, it can only be countered by the exact opposite. We need to put more initiatives on the streets that promote learning, education, and opportunities for those areas that are affected by the violence.

The police are a reactive force because they come to try and solve crime after it occurs in the majority of instances. From a criminal perspective, police don’t work. I never once worried about the police until after I committed a crime. We had people set up around the hood who would let us know when the police were spotted. There are cameras in most of the high-crime areas, on every building, and crime still continues. In one area, the police are frequently parked across the street and shootings occur on a regular basis. They are not deterring crime. Spending another quarter-million to not even curb the violence. It doesn’t stop grandmothers from having to put children in tubs, it hurts them. It takes funds from that same grandmother and wastes them.

Even in the catching of those who commit violent crimes after they’ve committed them, we still wound our community. We lock up for long durations a father or mother, a brother or sister, we hurt the family dynamic, and from my experience of growing up in foster care because my father was murdered and my mother imprisoned, I can tell you that it leads the majority of the time to the children growing up and becoming criminals. Statistically this is clear, so policing is not the answer. From an early age, some of our children are enamored with the criminal lifestyle and see few alternatives.

As for the social workers needing an armed escort, it makes me call into question what the social workers’ relationships with their clients are. For them to need an armed escort must mean that they are being viewed as intrusive in some form or fashion. My experience with social workers from my foster care days and from viewing their relationship with the community recently is that they come into homes as wardens and not as helpmates. The very fact that they are requesting armed enforcement is validation of this fact.

I’m hearing a lot about white and black in these talks and I believe that distracts from the problem. Black on Black violence is a problem, true. Black folks have been trained to de-value each other. Why not invest that money into programs specifically targeted to show us Black folks the harm we do to each other, to teach us the value and import in loving ourselves and each other—how it’s not just someone else’s problem, but all of ours, especially in this day and age where racism is being legalized.

As a community, a village, we need to invest these funds into preventive measures. We need to find the points where children are psychologically transitioning into making decisions to choose violence or crime instead of solving whatever crisis they have. We need to help those with a history of crime or violence make better decisions. We need to create centers in high problem areas that provide other options and alternatives to the streets. If it takes a village to raise a child, then let’s become a village. If we leave the streets to raise our children, we can’t complain about how they turn out and then call in armed strangers to lock them up. Clearly policing doesn’t work to solve the problems because they’ve been around for hundreds of years and the problems still exist. It’s time we looked to ourselves to be active in helping create change in our environment.

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