The Pandemic of Fear: Why Police and Citizens Are at War

The American media, especially cable news channels, have focused much airtime on the Ebola outbreak. David Goldman/AP


The American media, especially cable news channels, have focused much airtime on the Ebola outbreak. David Goldman/AP

By Mike Syku

‘Broken Windows’ policing is the theory that patrolling urban areas and cracking down on low-level crimes, such as grafitti and  shoplifting, will discourage the development of more serious crimes.

It also postulates that the main cause of serious crime is basic incivility in a city that creates a feeling of lawlessness and makes it seem more acceptable to commit a crime: think growing police forces and “stop and frisk” tactics. The theory, essentially, is predicated on the assumption that fear of being arrested will dissuade incivility and, eventually, serious crime.

Why, then, are we dying in the streets? Why are we rioting? Why isn’t this method of policing  working?

Look no further than the basic thesis of the method itself: keep the people in line with brute force and fear.

The coercive nature of instilling fear into the citizens of a city creates a war-like discrepancy between the people who think of themselves as the “protectors” and the people who view themselves as people just trying to mind their own business.

Overzealous police who truly believe they are keeping their cities crime-free accost people several times a week. The citizens become aggravated as the massive amount of pressure and fear builds up day after day, generated by a system tailored to create as much fear as possible.

They lash out, as people systemically oppressed are wont to do; a step forward, a raised voice, gesturing, pleading, screaming. Then, the police who have been trained to fear the civilians will react to that fear.

They see knives where there were actually cigars. Guns where there were cell phones.

They see a big man yelling and assume he will eventually attack. They, like all people, will protect themselves.

They have guns, or numbers, fire or both, and they usually win.

How can we stop these deaths?

The problem is fear, paranoia and distrust. The only answer is mutual understanding.

If cops understand just how oppressive it is to live every day in fear, and citizens understand how terrifying it is for police to risk their lives every day with no information, maybe we can dispel the fear and end the deaths of unarmed civilians.

When every altercation is not clouded by the fog of fear, maybe civilians will not feel oppressed by the system and police will not jump to conclusions prematurely.

When everything slows and everyone involved feels just a bit safer, maybe we can actually make our communities and our lives a bit safer.