Police aim to serve and protect, not shoot

Last Wednesday night, I was woken up at about four in the morning by a pounding. I thought it was my door. I turned on the light and listened as the pounding continued. There were two men outside, pounding on the door.

I opened the door and went outside. There, on my neighbor’s porch, were the Burlington police causing a ruckus in the middle of the night. I wanted to write them up for a noise violation. 300 bucks. Each.

What were they doing there? Apparently one of my neighbors had been very drunk and had stumbled up the stairs of the wrong house and had attempted to gain entry. The funny thing was that the house wasn’t even on our street.

We know that we have a massive problem in the United States. We know that blacks in particular and minorities in general suffer humiliation and grave bodily harm at the hands of our police.

Just this week, a 13-year-old boy who was walking around with a BB gun in his neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio was shot and killed by the police, a story that we have heard echoed over and over again.

We know that whites can get away with a hell of a lot when it comes to the police. Imagine if my white neighbor, a young woman who had drunkenly trespassed on someone’s property, had been a young black man.

Imagine if this wasn’t Vermont, a state that in 2015 had not one fatal shooting by a police officer. (So far in 2016 the police have shot two people in VT, one in Winooski Sept. 16, according to multiple sources.)

That young black man could have ended up dead, instead of carted home by the police.

But what I want to write about is the idea of the police and why we need them, or don’t need them. Could we create a society where we don’t need the police, where we can police ourselves? Could we create a kinder, less militaristic, less belligerent, more honest police force?

I think the solution to police shootings and to the gun violence we suffer in the United States lies in a disarmament on both sides. When it comes down to it, people want guns not just for protection against the boogeymen of the night, but against the government.

The principle that the Second Amendment stands for is not the right to keep and bear arms for one’s own protection, but to keep and bear arms in case one needs to overthrow the government. Without a highly armed body of civilians, we would not have been able to fight a war, characterized by guerilla tactics and resistance, against the British.

Neither would the South have been able to rebel against the Union. But that principle is out the window. An AR-15 is no match for a drone. Or a tank. Does that mean people should be able to keep and bear tanks?

People are afraid of the government, and the police are the main embodiment of government that we interact with on a daily basis. In 2015 the police in the U.S. killed about 1,000 people (according to the Washington Post and other sources). How many people did ISIS kill?

We are one of the most highly armed populations in the world with 112 guns per 100 people, according to Wikipedia. It makes sense for the police to be afraid of getting shot. On the other hand, most of those guns are concentrated in the hands of a few people. Most gun owners own more than one gun.

Apparently, gun ownership in the U.S. has dropped to a 40 year low, with just 42 percent of households in possession of a firearm, according to a study by the Washington Post.

42 police were killed in the line of duty in 2015 in the U.S.. (a lopsided figure––1,000 vs. 42). Maybe, if less and less people feel the need to own guns in the U.S. the police could do away with their own guns.

One question I have is this: if the police killed 1,000 people last year, how many people did they save? Is there some figure, in dollars, or in lives, some cost-benefit analysis, that would justify the American blood the police sheds in the name of upholding the law and protecting society?

The fact of the matter is that the police force are no longer there to be your friend, as in the good days of Sheriff Bob who would give you a ride home if you were too drunk. I’m not sure if good ol’ Sheriff Bob ever really existed, but he’s certainly not around now.

The police are now largely anonymous. They stay in their cars. They don’t walk the neighborhood beat anymore. They are there to make arrests, issue citations and pull over as many people as possible. They are playing a numbers game, and that game is costing lives.

The only way to get people to get rid of their guns is to make the cops do the same. We need a bilateral disarmament. Sure, we’ll still have special police units, but the average cop should not need a gun. In Britain, for example, most police do not carry firearms.

A widely seen video from the U.K. shows thirty British police hemming in a crazed man waving around machete, using their cars and riot shields to contain the man and ultimately disarm him. Not a shot fired. The police in the U.S. have seen too many police movies. Shoot first, ask questions later.

There’s a quote by George Orwell, perhaps misattributed, that says, “people sleep peacefully in their beds because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” Could we sleep safe at night without the police?