The term community policing is being touted as something that is going to be a cure-all for the Afro-American and Latino communities. In this day and age, the phrase is a misnomer. For those of us growing up in Harlem during the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s (before the drugs), community policing was the norm. The police knew the people in the community, the people in the community knew the police. There was a mutual respect between the police and the community.
With the introduction of drugs into the Black and Spanish communities, the respect has gone, which has led to many shootings by the police of Blacks. To alleviate the apathy of the police toward the Black community and the community toward the police (locally and throughout the United States), the community has to ban together with the police and patrol together their neighborhoods. An example is the Williamsburg section in Brooklyn. The Jewish community has their own patrol, protecting their turf. You don’t have anyone in the Jewish community being shot by the police. This cooperation is true community policing.
One of the main reasons community policing is not going to work in the Black and Spanish communities is drugs. Those communities that have some semblance of patrols do not patrol where they are selling drugs and neither do the police. When I was pastoring in Mount Vernon, N.Y., I formed a patrol called the Watchmen. Members of my church and I patrolled Third Street, where drugs were sold with impunity. Mayor Ernie Davis gave me police assistance every week, and we prayed and went out on patrol. We had the police stay a short distance from us so that we could evangelize and talk to the people in the community regarding employment, housing, voter registration, etc. The presence of the police made the community safe when we were patrolling. The other churches and community groups would not join us because of fear and apathy.
When you patrol your community, when you respect yourself, others respect you also. You then don’t have shootings by your own people or by law enforcement.
The Rev. Winston M. Clarke
NYC Department of Correction