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Polarized policing

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GBH, May 2021

At a recent event on anti-Asian violence, sponsored by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, the conversation turned contentious. While the panelists all agreed that anti-Asian hate is rising and needs to be addressed, they quarreled over whether more policing and more prosecution should be part of the solution. This division even led to opposition to the recent federal bill to combat anti-Asian hate crimes (which President Biden signed last Thursday) because “[h]ate crime classifications are really about justifying and reforming a system that we are trying to replace.” Clearly, the issue of policing is divisive and is driving a wedge within communities of color.

With the persistent problem of police misconduct and shooting of Black men, many communities of color have lost faith in the police and its ability to protect those communities. Understandably so. The risk that innocent Black men will lose their lives at the hands of police officers who are poorly trained at best, and afflicted with racial animus at worst, is all too real. Exhibit A: The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.

But is the best solution to eliminate law enforcement? Perhaps the path forward lies not in less law enforcement, but better law enforcement. By spending effort in disagreeing about the value of policing, minority communities are missing the valuable opportunity to talk about how to reform policing.

To rail against more policing as a matter of principle is to leave some of our most vulnerable populations at risk of harm on the streets and encourage self-help. Firearm merchants report a spike in Asian Americans buying guns to protect themselves amid a climb in anti-Asian hate crimes. Gun sales are up among Asian Americans when the message is that self-protection is the only way to protect yourself. Other Asian Americans, meanwhile, carry pepper sprays and mace.

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