During one of my summer breaks from college, I was sitting outside enjoying the summer breeze. In one hand I held a mayonnaise jar full of red Kool-Aid and ice. In my other hand I held a book on Egyptian culture.
While reading, the sounds of a car creeping by and indistinct chatter from a two-way radio dislodged my mind from Egypt. When I raised my eyes from the book, a police car was drifting by.
Instead of watching the road in front of him the officer was busy scowling at me. It was no mystery why this officer just about broke his neck to give me a disapproving look. I was a young African American man in North Minneapolis. Translation: trouble.
It’s very likely that if the officer lived, shopped, recreated in the neighborhood he policed, he might have greeted me with a smile and a “hello.”
Unfortunately, like so many other police officers, this officer didn’t live in the community he policed. He was simply an occupier in a foreign land full of foreign people whose humanity he questioned.
Recently, during an arrest in St. Paul, Officer Jesse Zilge was caught on camera assaulting Eric Hightower. While Mr. Hightower was lying on the ground, Officer Zilge kicked him, picked him up by his dreadlocks, and slammed Mr. Hightower’s face on the hot hood of the police car.
Community members watched and yelled for Officer Zilge to stop. He hollered back, “He beat up a woman! Calm down.”
To be fair, I sympathize with the officer’s poor judgment and misguided principles. There was a time in my life when I believed that perpetrators of domestic violence deserved more punishment than what Officer Zilge dished out.
It’s hard to ignore the dignity and humanity of a woman
who prays beside you in church, or a
man who you play pick-up basketball with…
But regardless of what a person is alleged to have done, police brutality is never acceptable. As an officer of the law, police are supposed to be beacons of the law and must be held to the highest standard of conduct. An officer is never justified in ignoring a person’s humanity when making an arrest.
This incident also begs the question, was it simply what Mr. Hightower was accused of that prompted Officer Zilge’s degrading arrest, or did race play a role?
This incident reaffirms the African American community’s view that police are an oppressive occupying force who consistently overstep their authority with us because they have no connection or invested stake in the communities that they police.
Not all police have a hostile and disrespectful attitude toward the community they patrol. But for the many that do, their attitude and actions are not due to a lack of sensitivity or diversity training. More important than training are real life experiences.
If police had more opportunities to connect with the community in regular interactions as neighbors, a much better relationship could develop when dealing with community members as an officer.
Living amongst the people provides the opportunity to truly know and care for the people. It allows for police to be informed when dealing with community members, and it eliminates unwarranted suspicions and hostilities.
It’s hard to ignore the dignity and humanity of a woman who prays beside you in church, or a man who you play pick-up basketball with, or a child who you root for because he plays on the same team as your child.
Requiring officers to live in the precinct they work in will nurture respect on both sides. Members of the community are more likely to assist in solving crime when they view police as concerned members of the community who do their job because they love the community — not because they are looking for some action and love power.
If the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul have any desire to decrease police misconduct and improve the relationships between police and the community, they will require officers to live in the precinct that they work in.
Jeffery Young welcomes reader responses to Jeffery Young #213390, 7600 525th St., Rush City, MN 55069.