EDITORIAL: Law enforcement needs to actually protect and serve

Jacob L'Hommedieu, Op/Ed Editor

Imagine being raped on the hard floor of a bathroom you don’t remember walking into, waking up only to your friends’ desperate efforts to find where you are. Think about what it might be like stumbling out of a house that feels like a distant memory, bracing yourself for a short drive that feels like hours to the hospital with your underwear, tainted with someone else’s DNA, in a bag marked as evidence.

You talk to the police. You tell them everything.

But three years later, they stop answering your calls. They don’t check in on you. And your underwear, forever ruined by someone else’s exploitation, sits in a room, somewhere you wouldn’t recognize, with 73,000 other pieces of evidence – waiting, for far too long.

This isn’t a made-up story.

But what about a constable in the city we live in ignoring a witness’s desperate cries to help a victim of a rape they had witnessed nearby? That couldn’t have happened.

But it did.

And George Floyd didn’t die from police brutality, right? Kanye West said he didn’t, so it must be true.

No, he was suffocated to death.

Well, who killed him was just a bad apple, right? To that, we say that if the tree keeps producing bad apples, then maybe the damn thing should just be uprooted.

For law enforcement, one of the foremost promises they make is to protect and serve our communities and neighborhoods.

Law enforcement in the city and nationwide seem to be taking this devil-may-care attitude towards protecting the public instead.

The militarization of our police force around the country only makes the people they are supposed to be protecting fear them. Police are trained to shoot, taze, pepper spray, yell, and pose themselves as demanding and intimidating. We are meant to fear them. But how can we feel safe around people who incite fear?

The system is broken, but we can’t afford for it to be broken any longer. People are suffering, and the force, founded initially in an attempt to capture escaped slaves in this country, needs to be reinvented – now.

We need in-depth training and better resources for social workers. We need crisis intervention teams in every city, backed by a federal mental health care plan, so we can stop filling jails and prisons with people who need help – not to be punished.

The training period for law enforcement should be much longer than it already is. Rather than shooting first and asking questions later, more focus should be placed on the idea of peacefully de-escalating situations. In fact, the New Orleans Police Department has emphasized de-escalation training as a part of their program since 2016. Since then, it was reported in 2020 that the number of reported instances of officers raising their firearms decreased nearly 50%.

The fact of the matter is that not every incident needs a gun-toting hotshot with only a couple months worth of firearm training and even less law and order experience. Why can’t we send a traffic task force out to car crashes? Social workers to rape crime scenes?

The decision of what law enforcement does should be ultimately up to the community they are meant to serve.

Officers of the law are a necessary part of our society, but the resources they are given and the people in the force need to be put to better use in how we as a community choose to have them operate in their promise to protect us.

Because they are not filling that promise now, and we are in desperate need of a promise that lasts.