The stark reality that "community policing" isn't going to solve all that much

The very public and often acerbic debate over policing and crime in the nation’s cities may eventually find its resolution not through the high profile, divisive stories which the media loves to dwell on, but the “smaller” tragedies which often go unreported. The story of Trey Dennis, which we discussed earlier this week, is only one of millions of such tales which unfold each and every year around the country. In Friday’s Washington Post, Colbert King looks at another such story, this time taking place in the nation’s capital. Thankfully this one doesn’t involve a homicide, so it attracted even less attention from the press at large, but it was perhaps even more emblematic of the problems we’re grappling with. This was the story of a shooting at a local McDonald’s perpetrated by a fifteen year old child.

Shortly before noon on Friday, Aug. 12, inside a bathroom of the McDonald’s restaurant at Verizon Center at 6th and F streets NW, a 25-year-old man was shot in the left side of his face, the bullet exiting his cheek.

Police arrested the shooting suspect the next day. He was 15 years old.

This kind of story gets little media coverage. It’s just another snippet about black youth violence, noteworthy only because the criminal behavior occurred downtown.

We don’t know the name of of the youth because the police don’t release the identity of minors in such cases, but there’s security camera footage showing three other persons of interest and they don’t believe the shooting was random. You don’t need to be a math major to add up the most likely scenario taking place here. It was almost undoubtedly yet another instance of gang violence.

King goes on to highlight several other such stories and then notes (with praise) the work which has been done by outgoing D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, who has done much to integrate the police with those they are sworn to protect and serve in the community. But he also brings up the unpopular and politically toxic reality that no amount of police work was going to turn this shooter off the path which led him to that McDonald’s bathroom.

But even Lanier, despite her skills at policing and community engagement, could not do very much about a young person who is motivated to shoot someone and has the means to do it. Police chiefs aren’t mind readers. They can’t be in all places at all times. Their officers can conduct searches and arrest suspects after an attack occurs, as happened in the McDonald’s shooting, and hopefully get a conviction.

But when it comes to turning our youth away from robbing, stealing, shooting and stabbing one another, that burden doesn’t belong on the shoulders of a police chief or any cop.

So called “community policing” is still a good thing… within reason. Getting cops out there who know the folks in the community and build bonds of trust with the law abiding will only benefit everyone in the end. But to pretend that it makes a dent in the actual problem is a politically palatable lie. Yes, you need strong bonds between law enforcement and law abiding citizens who may be suspicious of authority and the local police. That goes without saying. But for those who are actively engaged in criminal activity (at any level) in their daily lives, including younger teens, there is no amount of friendly chats or body camera mandates that will bridge that divide. For those who simply view the police as the enemy, the battle for hearts and minds is already lost.

So what could have stopped this? In the current social environment… probably nothing. But that doesn’t mean that it has to stay that way forever. We can’t ask the police to change the culture in our inner cities. That sort of progress requires generational evolution and it can only come from the families, the churches and the community leaders who are no longer willing to tolerate the death and mayhem. They can raise a generation of kids who will reject gang violence as the only path to “success” for some low income families. They are the ones who can foster an attitude of working with the police, not against them, to root out criminals who trade in drugs, violence and localized terror.

Until that happens, another round of government funding or better dash cams in squad cars may act as a bandage to appease politically motivated protesters, but it’s not going to change the reality on the streets. And that reality is grim indeed.


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Jazz Shaw 5:01 PM on March 22, 2023