Militarization of the police is a symptom, not the main problem, panelists say

Madeleine Lewis
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY – Panelists discussed how inequality, immorality and overreaction might be the underlying issue behind the militarization in the police force.

Militarization of police is “the process whereby civilian police increasingly draw from, and pattern themselves around, the tenets of militarism and the military model,” as defined by professor of criminal law, Peter Kraska.

The panelists, who were hosted by the Hinckley Institute at the University of Utah on Jan. 20, believe this is an inappropriate approach for the police to take.

“Why do we have a military?” Dr. Malcolm Holmes, professor at University of Wyoming, asked. “To protect us from our enemies. And destroy them if necessary. Our citizens are not our enemies.”

Holmes is a professor in the Department of Sociology and has been researching police brutality for many years. He explained that the police have adopted this “military” personality in part because of the United States’ wars on drugs and crime. It creates an us and them mentality.

“These wars on crime, drugs provides us with an image that makes us think there are some among us who deserve to be destroyed,” he said.

Holmes said these judgments of who should or should not be “destroyed” are egged on by stereotypes and inequality in housing and education, leading to black and Latino neighborhoods being targeted.

Roderick Land, education liaison for Salt Lake County, said Americans need to rethink the value of life. He said police are acting as “judges of moral character.” Sometimes these judgments result in death.

These judgment calls are being made in schools too. “Bad” students are separated out from “good” students. Associate law professor Emily Chiang explained that this drives young students to act out more, because they think “you think I’m a bad student: I’ll show you just how horrible I can be.”

Chiang has seen how “bad” students are primed and groomed for a life in the criminal justice system, in what’s called the School-to-Prison pipeline.

She worked a case in Atlanta where students were searched before they could enter the school. Students were required to take off their shoes and show that they had no weapons in their socks along with other demeaning actions during these searches.

This “pipeline” is the process where young students are treated as criminals for acting out and ultimately become criminals because they are used to the order and system.

Chiang drew parallels between the militarization of the police to the disciplining of children in schools in America.

“It’s an American cultural phenomenon, the idea that more is more and harsher is better,” Chiang said.

Chiang cited statistics that say just the opposite. For example, when a 9th grader is suspended once from school, they become three times as likely to drop out.

That’s why Chiang wants to see changes to the “zero tolerance” policies used in schools.

The Utah legislature will be hearing a bill for zero bullying tolerance this session, and she asked that citizens be part of that conversation and provide alternative solutions.

Chiang said while we want to keep students safe, there is a need to be more empathetic too.

Chiang also suggested that concerned individuals should personally contact their own old schools and discuss the policies with principals and administrators. Statistics for every public school are available online. Speaking to your local and federal representatives would help too.

Land wanted citizens to hold their elected officials accountable to this issue. There has been a national dialogue on policing over the past several months and he wants to see this come into play in the legislative branch.

Outside of the legislature, America needs to experience a fundamental moral character shift according to Land. “That will take a lot of work and a lot of self work,” he said.

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Categories: Education, Utah Legislature, Utah News

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