One summer evening, a sizable group of Black men gathered outside a mosque in a quiet, west Baltimore neighborhood. Their mission was simple: create a Black neighborhood watch organization to protect their own community. To end their reliance on hateful, often violent outsiders for the “protection” of their home. As usual, there were no weapons and the noise level was low considering the amount of people gathering. The idea was that the presence of this group would deter any negative activity in the neighborhood by letting people know that, finally, they were being protected by an organization that shared their interests. The men proudly marched block to block so their people could see them and they would see their people. This was the community policing initiative we’ve all been tweeting about for the last five years, and it was an incredibly powerful moment. Then the police showed up.
Now it’s important to note that the police didn’t just show up because their police senses started tingling. They were called by someone from the very community these men came out to defend. Someone looked out of their window, saw this group of Black men walking through the streets, and immediately assumed they had ill intentions. It likely never occurred to this person to simply ask the men what they were doing.
Community policing can’t work because people are too afraid of their own neighbors. We do not trust each other and honestly feel safer calling the police for small offenses than directly communicating our grievances. It is time to check ourselves and ask if we are actually ready to take responsibility for our own communities. And if we aren’t, we need to prepare ourselves by starting on an individual level.
You want to see us policing, or rather protecting, ourselves? Next time one of your neighbors is letting off fireworks and keeping you up until midnight, challenge yourself to knock on their door and express your concerns. Don’t be afraid to get a negative or confrontational reaction. Stop assuming the worst of people. Conflict is a necessary step in community building, and it is definitely preferable to the tragic scenarios that so often follow police involvement. Community policing can’t just be a group of selected men and women charged with guarding our streets. It must begin with us each having enough respect and trust in our people to take responsibility for our interactions with each other. How can we demand the opportunity to defend our own community if we don’t already believe the people around us are worth defending?