“A riot is the language of the unheard.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Over break, Agora sent out a call for submissions on the topic, “Why should planners care about police brutality” I thought to myself about how obvious that answer is: of course we should.

The reason is that police brutality and law enforcement have been one of the driving forces in the deterioration of black and minority families. Black males are racially profiled and are either shot or imprisoned at disproportionality higher rates than whites for either being poor, partaking in petty crimes or not properly “doing gender”; meaning that they exhibit characteristics that are not “masculine”. Police brutality has contributed to our mass incarceration problem because police hold so much power against residents. The system is based on quantity over quality of crimes, resulting in attempts to reach a quota, therefore contributing to racial profiling and police brutality. Moreover, the segregation of neighborhoods serves as a means to target minority populations. Historically speaking, neighborhood segregation could not have succeeded without police brutality. Programs like Stop the Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets (STRESS) in Detroit was a way for a mostly all white police department to exert their power and control over black communities, strikingly similarly to the master and slave relationship. After the election of Coleman Young, the Detroit Police Department was integrated with black police officers, but the damage was done for many black neighborhoods, and a lot of trust was lost amongst black residents. City lines were strictly enforced by police in wealthy municipalities through harassment and violence.

Police officers are supposed to serve and protect but when these, mostly, men who are trained to killed are not educated on topics like diversity, women’s issues, immigration, black history, and LGBT sensitivity then the result is a fundamentally flawed workforce. And when I say educated I don’t mean watching the evening news or reading opinion pieces. If police officers are capable of taking a life then they should be trained rigorously and compensated well to ensure that the suspect is alive for their trial. Furthermore, the criminal justice system should punish comparable to the crime. Was it really worth the life of Eric Gardner for loose smokes? 

Any good urban planner must do their research on the history of their respective city, just as police officers should know the history of their patrol areas. Above all, police officers intentions must be to protect and serve everyone regardless of race, class, gender, and/or sexual orientation.

Planners should care about police brutality and if we do not then we are planning for the elite and becoming complacent in social injustices.